Some plays are like symphonies or pops concerts, with many players, working in sync to tell a grand story. Others are like chamber music, smaller affairs where the ensemble has to be even more finely tuned. As a play, Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly is like a niche within a niche.
It is a two-person play – a duet. It is also part of Wilson’s “Talley Trilogy,” which also includes The Fifth of July and Talley and Son. One does not need to have seen the other two to appreciate Talley’s Folly, but it does serve as a prequel to the group.
If musical analogies are apt, then we must also call Talley’s Folly a dance. The character Matt Friedman even goes so far as to introduce the play as “a waltz … a no-holds-barred romantic story.” If I agree with Matt – engagingly played by Louis Lavoie – I will offer that it is a ragged waltz, never making flowing and sweeping circles in three quarter time; here the dance is tentative, as when two wall-flowers are forced to face each other and step in time with the music.
Matt Friedman, a Jewish immigrant from the east coast, has arrived in Lebanon, Missouri, on July 4, 1944. In the old boathouse on the Talley farm, he is reunited with Sally Talley to confront her about his feelings and a great many things. Sally – a heartfelt performance by Rebecca Ellis – is a nurse’s aide and is a 31-year old spinster. As is often the case in Lanford Wilson plays, Matt and Sally are both outsiders. Matt is a stranger to her Ozark world and tight-knit family, while she is straight-talking and very forward, a quality not usually cultivated in old maids.
As different as two people can be, Matt and Sally engage in a quirky, emotional pas de deux that is fascinating to watch. His Jewishness and persnickety nature clashes with her small town values, yet they are drawn together. As they face off in the boat house, Matt’s determination to woo Sally, and her reluctance to dive into the relationship due to family prejudice and reasons even more personal, are slowly revealed.
February 5 – March 6, 2016
Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions
at Theatre on the Run
3700 South Four Mile Run Drive
Arlington, VA 22206
1 hour, 37 minutes, no intermission
Fridays thru Sundays
Check for Discounts
Those revelations, which are peeled away throughout the play’s single act, is one of the reasons I have mixed feelings about this production. When I read this play won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, I was more than a little surprised. I am an admirer of Wilson’s work –The Fifth of July always moves me, and I got to act in a production of Burn This a few decades ago. After seeing Talley’s Folly I was not fully convinced of its literary merits. I realized that perhaps some plays shine more in the reading than in the playing. Lavoie and Ellis brought vivid life to their distinctive and drawn together characters, but my heart kept whispering, “are they together yet?” Perhaps adjusting the pacing or two actors getting used to carrying a play together will sort itself out as the production progresses.
Director Aly B. Ettman, aside from casting two skillful actors, provides just the right, light touch that allows Lavoie and Ellis to use the intimate Theatre on the Run playing space to their advantage. The impressionistic scenic design and lighting scheme by E-hui Woo was evocative without being distracting.
Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions began their 2015-16 “season of dynamic duos” with the Willy Russell two-hander Educating Rita. After Talley’s Folly, the company will present Collected Stories by Donald Margulies later in the spring. Two character plays hold a unique place in theatre and Peter’s Alley is to be commended for offering a selection of these plays, theatre’s answer to chamber music.
Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson . Director: Aly B. Ettman . Featuring Rebecca Ellis and Louis Lavoie .Set and lighting design: E-hui Woo . Costume design: Aly B. Ettman . Sound design: David G. Jung . Stage manager: David G. Jung . Produced by Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.