Ken Talley Jr., 30, lost his legs while fighting in Vietnam. Now he lives with his partner, Jed, in his Aunt Sally’s farmhouse.
Ken taught English at the high school and was popular among the students. But everything’s changed since his return home.
Lanford Wilson’s drama, “Fifth of July,” is LSU Theatre’s 2014 fall main stage production and opens with a pay-what-you-can performance on Wednesday in the Claude L. Shaver Theatre. It’s also the third play in Wilson’s “Talley Trilogy” series focusing on the Talley family.
“I struggled with Ken’s character at first,” actor Michael Guillot says. “I didn’t know how I would make him likable. He’s an angry war vet, so he has a lot of issues. He fights bitterness with sarcasm, wit and cynical humor. And with him being legless, I’m both mentally and physically taxed after a rehearsal. I’m still trying to fight through it, but I’ve learned so much.”
Guillot is a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in theater. His experiences are different than that of a war vet in the 1970s, but he had a perfect resource nearby.
“I interviewed my grandfather,” Guillot says. “He fought in Vietnam and was able to tell me about some of the things he went through. I also watched tons of YouTube videos and did a lot of reading on the ’70s.”
- Still, not all of Ken’s problems are in the past. His sister, June, and her 14-year-old daughter, Shirley, pay him a visit, along with his longtime friends, John and his wife Gwen.
Gwen has inherited a large industrial copper conglomerate, and John wants to use her money to buy Ken’s farmhouse. Gwen dreams of becoming a country singer, and John wants to make it come true by converting the house into a recording studio.
Then there’s the twist, in this case being a question of Shirley’s paternity. Ken and June know. “There’s someone else in the play who knows, too, but I can’t say who it is,” says Laine Korn, who plays Shirley. “There has to be a surprise element in the play, and I don’t want to ruin it.”
Korn, 20, is a junior theater major from New Orleans. Though Shirley is young, Korn enjoys playing her.
“She’s bright, and she knows a lot,” Korn says. “She also wants to be everything in the art world. She wants to be a writer, a sculptor, a painter and a composer.”
Directing Korn, Guillot and the rest of the cast is associate professor of theater Richard Holden, who also will appear in an upcoming episode of “NCIS: New Orleans.”
“Like the rest of the Talley trilogy, ‘Fifth of July’ is a tale told from a deeply personal point of view,” he says. “It shows a quintessential American family wrestling with the residue of war, social upheaval and entrenched ideology.”
But it also breaks through the darkness with its witty, cynical humor.
“Lanford Wilson is a master of seeing humor in the bleakest of human circumstances,” Holden says. “His wit has guts.”
- CAST: Lance Benezech, John; Chase Easley, Weston; Michael Guillot, Ken; Laine Korn, Shirley; Curran Latas, Jed; Mallory Osigian, Gwen; Miranda Rozas, Sally; Lauren Stefanski, June.
- ARTISTIC STAFF: Richard Holden, director; Kenneth Ellis, set design; Adam Parboosingh, lighting projections design; Andie Morgenlander, costume design; Alexandra Groth, sound design; Stacey Cabaj, vocal coach; Jordan Campbell, stage manager.