Talley's Folly at the Jewish Repertory Theatre
By ANTHONY CHASE
It is hard to recall what resonated so powerfully in 1980 that Lanford Wilson's Talley’s Folly earned the status of Pulitzer Prize winner, but there is no denying that this is a lusciously romantic and elegant play. Indeed, it is the most delicate and loving of Wilson’s works, and provides happy balance in the interplay of comedy and tragedy implicit in the mission of the Jewish Repertory Theatre of WNY.
On a moonlit night on July 4, 1944, the holocaust may be making its deadly march across Europe, but in a decaying Victorian boathouse, by the lake on the Talley family farm in rural Lebanon, Missouri, Matt Friedman has come to court Sally Talley. He is a Jewish immigrant. She is from one of the town’s most patrician protestant families. Over the course of 97 minutes, by Mr. Friedman’s pocket watch, the two will resolve the relationship between them.
Under the direction of Steve Vaughan, with set by David Dwyer, costumes by Kari Drozd, lighting by Brian Cavanagh, and sound by Tom Makar, actors Anne Roaldi Boucher and Chris J. Handley take us on a loving, sometimes confrontational, yet deeply intimate stroll into the lives of Matt and Sally. The audience knows that this couple belongs together, but Sally is holding back.
There is something in the pasts of both Sally and Matt that marks them with stigma in this town. The anti-Semitism of Sally’s own family makes the mark on Matt obvious, but her infraction is more difficult to locate.
She was fired from her job as a Sunday school teacher after she had the children read Thorstein Veblen’s “The Theory of the Leisure Class.” She reasoned that since her students were the children of workers in her father’s own garment factory, and were asking about recent union activity, she should put the Methodist reader aside for a few days. The town elders saw the matter differently. Her teaching of the work of Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic, did not help her case!
Still, this freedom of thought is not enough to explain Sally’s inner pain, or her insistent refusal of Matt’s proposal. This, we will discover in just over 90 minutes of Lanford Wilson’s sumptuous language.
Anne Roaldi Boucher and Chris J. Handley are charismatic in the roles. He charms us as he endeavors to charm her with his gentle clowning. She is an irresistible combination of straight-laced social propriety and intellectual irreverence. These two actors gamely keep the back and forth between Sally and Matt in play without abatement or lagging.
There were times during moments of confrontation when what may have played in 1979, no longer feels comfortable. There must be ways for Matt to interact with Sally in a way that prompts her to say, “you’re hurting me!” that don’t involve such physical menace. In this production, Matt’s aggressive physical restraint of Sally; his blocking her path of escape, seem inappropriately threatening – especially since he has come to charm her. Perhaps a supplicating drop to her feet and a pleading grasp for her ankles would have been a softer way to stage this uncomfortable moment.
On the other hand, encouraging the actors to avoid restraint as the indulge in Wilson's luxurious language was a glorious choice, and Boucher and Handley do not squander this opportunity.
The look of the production evokes a nostalgic look back at one fateful evening, while the playwright’s evoking of the play as an event to be narrated, gives it the quality of a storybook tale. The Jewish Repertory Theatre of WNY gives Talley’s Folly a handsome and satisfying outing.
Performances continue though March 3, Thu at 7:30, Sat at 4 & 8, Sun at 2. The Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre, 2640 North Forest Road, Getzville (650-7626). www.jewishrepertorytheatre.com