Wednesday, May 1, 2013

theatre review TALLEY'S FOLLY, Off Broadway, April 21,

Talley's Folly is a play that we've now seen performed by three different theatre companies over the past eight or so years.  Having won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1980 and with two great parts and an engaging storyline, it is easy to see why it is often produced.  It is a love letter of a play about two lost and damaged people who both feel disconnected by the people around them but drawn to each other.

Taking place in just over 90 minutes and set on the fourth of July in 1944, the story focuses on Matt Friedman, a Jewish accountant in his early forties and Sally Talley, a 31 year old Protestant nurse who Matt met the summer before.  When the play begins we know Matt has come to ask Sally to marry him, though they barely know each other, as he talks to the audience and let's us know of his plans.  He also let's us know that the setting for the evening is the boathouse of the Talley family, a "folly" as they were called then, that has unfortunately not been maintained very well and is starting to fall apart.   He says it will be the perfect romantic setting for the "dance" he needs to do, a waltz he tells us, as not only is the folly the place that he and Sally came to last Summer but there will be stars in the sky and across the river there will be a band playing for the holiday.

Sarah Paulson and Danny Burstein
When Sally arrives at the boathouse, we immediately aren't sure if Matt knows what he is talking about as Sally wonders why he has even come.  We quickly find out that Sally's Protestant family, especially her brother, doesn't approve of the older Jewish man who has come to call on her and that Sally even questions why he has come.  However, we learn more about these two people as they share their pasts and their secrets and begin to realize just how connected they are.  As the night drifts on and Matt and Sally do their "dance" around each other, slowly revealing their most painful secrets, we too see how sometimes people try to distance themselves from someone who can help them just because they are too afraid to mention something so painful in their past.  The play is a valentine, though one that not only includes deep emotion and love but even pain.  It is so nicely written, with plenty of twists and turns and discovery that even though it is only a one act play for only two actors it is easy to see why author Lanford Wilson won the Pulitzer for writing it.

Burstein and Paulson
This Off Broadway production has two excellent actors in those roles, Danny Burstein is Matt and Sarah Paulson is Sally.  They are both so sincere and so realistic in their performances that you have no problem going along for the journey of self discovery where sometimes people hide the truth for a good reason.  Burstein is soft and charming yet forceful in his bid to win Sally's hand and Paulson is strong-willed and resistant yet at times seems as if she can break as easy as a piece of china.  Over the ninety minutes we realize that they are both frightened of events in their pasts that have made them into the secretive people they are today.  I can't imagine any other two actors achieving the success that Burstein and Paulson rise to in this production or being able to so easily show both strength and vulnerability.

Wilson's language in the play is so perfect and tender and includes many wonderful and funny lines.  One of my favorite lines of the play is when Sally questions Matt why he came and that he should leave and he replies “You can chase me away or you can put on a pretty dress, but you can’t put on a pretty dress to come down here and chase me away.”   Wilson is often compared to Tennessee Williams and it is easy to see why.

The set design by Jeff Cowie turns the entire production into a dreamy, romantic setting, just like Matt says he needs and director Michael Wilson perfectly gets at the pain and sorrow and ultimate joy that is inside these two characters.  With Burstein and Paulson this production is charming, romantic and simply lovely.  Talley's Folly runs through May 12th.

Official Show site

Clip from this production:

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