Fifth of July

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This article is about the 1978 play. For the 2005 Watershed (American band) album, see The Fifth of July.
Fifth of July
Written by Lanford Wilson
Date premiered April 27, 1978 (1978-04-27)
Place premiered Circle Repertory Company
New York City
Original language English
Series Talley Trilogy
Genre Comedy
Setting The Talley Place, a farm near Lebanon, Missouri.

Fifth of July is a 1978 play by American playwright Lanford Wilson. Set in rural Missouri in 1977, it revolves around the Talley family and their friends, and focuses on the disillusionment with America in the wake of the Vietnam War. It premiered on Broadway in 1980 and was later produced as a made-for-television movie.

This is part of the Talley Trilogy, a series of Wilson plays revolving around the Talley family of Lebanon, Missouri. The other plays, both set on July 4, 1944, are Talley's Folly, a one-act dialogue between Sally Talley and her husband-to-be, Matthew Friedman, and Talley & Son, which tells the story of a power struggle between Sally's father and grandfather.


Kenneth Talley, Jr. is a gay paraplegic Vietnam veteran living in his childhood home with his boyfriend, botanist Jed Jenkins. At the beginning of the play, he is due to soon return to his former high school to teach English, but has decided not to. Visiting Ken and Jed are Ken's sister, June Talley, and her daughter, Shirley, as well as Ken and June's longtime friends, John Landis and his wife Gwen, inheritor of a large industrial copper conglomerate. John is ostensibly visiting to purchase the Talley House for Gwen to convert to a recording studio, so that she can have a career as a country singer. Unbeknownst to anyone but June, John and Ken, Shirley is John's daughter, and his visit has as much to do with a desire to gain joint custody of Shirley as it does with the house. Ken, meanwhile, believes that the singing career is a way of distracting Gwen, so that John could take control of her businesses. Other visitors include Weston Hurley, Gwen's guitarist, and Ken's aunt, Sally Talley, who a year after his death still has her husband Matt's ashes in a candy box. The story culminates with a "bidding war" between Sally Talley and John Landis for the house after it is revealed to everyone that Ken planned on selling it to Landis. Sally ultimately outbids Landis and says she will give it to Jed so he can finish his gardening.

Production history[edit]

Fifth of July debuted Off-Broadway at the Circle Repertory Company on April 27, 1978, and closed on October 1, 1978. Directed by Marshall W. Mason the cast starred William Hurt (as Kenneth Talley, Jr.), Jeff Daniels, Amy Wright, Danton Stone and Jonathan Hogan, who also composed the incidental music. It ran for 159 performances.[1]

The play made its Broadway debut at the New Apollo Theatre on November 5, 1980, again directed by Mason with Daniels reprising the role of Jed, Christopher Reeve as Ken and Swoosie Kurtz as Gwen. Replacement actors for the role of Ken included Richard Thomas, Michael O'Keefe, Timothy Bottoms, and his brother Joseph Bottoms. Laraine Newman replaced Kurtz as Gwen. Kathy Bates was also a replacement in the role of June.

A television film was made of the play in 1982, directed by Mason and Kirk Browning, starring Daniels, Kurtz, Hogan, Stone, Cynthia Nixon, Joyce Reehling, Helen Stenborg, and Richard Thomas as Ken, the role in which he succeeded Reeve on Broadway.

A revival, starring Robert Sean Leonard as Ken and Parker Posey as Gwen, was part of the Signature Theater Company's 2002-2003 season-long tribute to Lanford Wilson.


  1. ^ "'Fifth of July' 1978", accessed September 4, 2015