“Talley’s Folly”, by The Merrimack Repertory Theatre

“Talley’s Folly” Written by Lanford Wilson; Directed by Kyle Fabel; Presented by The Merrimack Repertory Theatre at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, 50 East Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA. Performances through April 13th.


Perhaps what makes a play worthy of
a Pulitzer Prize (as “Talley’s Folly” earned for drama in 1980) is pitch-perfect
dialogue that never feels contrived or out of place even when the individuals
speaking it are not normally two “character-types” one might envision
together. Matt Friedman, a Jewish immigrant from Europe and a World War II
survivor with a head for numbers, now lives in St. Louis working as an
accountant. He is visiting Sally Talley, an attractive blonde mid-westerner in
her late thirties. She’s a nurse’s aide in Lebanon, Missouri. They had met the
previous year when Matt was in Lebanon, and now they have quietly come together at an
old Boathouse built generations ago by Sally’s eccentric grandfather. The oddly
shaped structure is in disrepair but still charming and sturdy.


Perhaps another reason “Talley” was a Pulitzer
winner is the wonderful symbolism and depth to the drama. The more one follows
this play, the more of its many layers are revealed. Initially, Talley’s folly is
a reference to Grandpa Talley, not Sally Talley, and his “folly” is
not in the usual sense of the word. In this case it is the alternate definition
found in Merriam-Webster: “A very unusual or fancy building that was built
in a garden for decoration or amusement in the past.” Sally’s grandfather
did what he wanted regardless of what others thought, a trait Sally clearly admired
in him. When he wanted to build gazebos all over town, people eventually told
him there were enough gazebos, please build something else. So he built a
boathouse – in the shape of a gazebo. 


The set for this production is
indeed “unusual and fancy”. Many in the audience
were heard commenting on the striking nature of the detailed and idyllic setting. The set was
itself a presence on the stage. Beautiful and ever shifting lighting made it
even more breathtaking. Credit goes to scenic designer Randall Parsons and
lighting designer Paul Hackenmuller for this truly eye-catching and romantic


At the outset of the performance,
Matt serves as our guide of sorts. Standing in front of the stage, he
delivers humorous and rambling observations, giving us an idea of what we are
looking at and what we are about to experience. He goes on at length about
driving Sally home from a dance a year ago, discovering the boathouse
“and that was enough” he hints to us, about the life of bees(!) and
the sense of hope after the Great Depression that was eclipsed by a dark power
rising in Europe. 


Matt suggests that as the tide of
war is turning in our favor, so too is the sense of hope returning to the
country. Armed with his share of hopefulness, he has come to find Sally, and
despite prevailing social pressures, seek her hand in marriage. Before the
night is over the two would-be lovers reveal to each other deep, painful
secrets they have hidden away. It is clear that only when their fears are laid
bare and the emotional dust settles can they see what, if anything, they have
left to build on.


The acting is wonderful in this
production. The character of Matt Friedman is played by Benim Foster, and Sally
Talley by Kathleen Wise. Both actors were in complete command of their roles
from opening scene to final bow, delivering heartfelt and humorous arguments
about why they should or should not even be thinking about a union of such
disparate cultures. Mr. Foster was particularly engaging and funny, with a very
capable grasp of various accents, from Hassidic to Red-Neck. I found Ms. Wise’s
performance most endearing, effectively communicating so much of her indecision
and consternation in her facial expressions and body language.


The fun of the night is watching
great performances of two people bound together by their attraction on a
gorgeous stage, but fearful of their differences, wondering if this folly will
be a foolish mistake or a beautiful and enduring edifice to their love. For
more info, go to: http://www.mrt.org/TalleysFolly



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