note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
. “Talley’s Folly,” Lanford Wilson’s 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary American classic play, was written 35 years ago as the second of his Talley trilogy, but retains its relevance today.
This one-act, two-person, 97-minute play about an impossible romance between two middle-aged people of conflicting backgrounds and ideals takes place July 4, 1944, in a rundown boathouse in Lebanon, Mo., which once boasted its unnecessary elegance, but has been unused for years. Randall Parsons’ handsome set and Paul Hackenmuller’s gorgeous lighting that distinguishes waning daylight in pastel hues, are eye-catching mood-setters.
Director Kyle Fabel punctuates the play’s humor and pathos between Jewish immigrant, Matt Friedman, an accountant living in St. Louis, and wealthy midwestern, non-Jewish nurse’s aide-spinster, Sally Talley, whom Kathleen Wise portrays with rigid resolution. This seemingly mismatched couple, whose courtship was defeated before it flowered, met a year earlier in Sally’s family boathouse, down by the river. It stagnated, unfulfilled, because Matt left.
He has returned a year later, filled with fervor and purpose, telling theatergoers we’re witnessing a waltz, which could go either way. He’s determined to rekindle their romance and marry Sally. Benim Foster as fortyish bachelor Matt is lighthearted and likable, joking about every obstacle they’re facing, but not joking about loving Sally. On the other hand, Sally’s family doesn’t like Matt, because he’s Jewish, and probably a communist.
The couple spars back and forth. He’s determined to woo and win her, while she rejects him overtly, pushing him away, then screaming when he draws closer. He wants to stay. She wants him to leave. He wants to reminisce. She wants to forget. He’s hopeful about the post-war future. She’s doubtful about almost everything.
Although Matt camped out at the hospital where Sally works, trying to get the other nurses to help him with Sally, he also contacted her aunt Charlotte, doing his “research” as he calls it, But Sally hid from Matt, trying to get rid of him.
She wants to leave her home and family, yet she pushes Matt away even more. She’s hurt, wounded - not just by Matt, but by a longterm relationship that fell apart years ago, because of a secret Sally’s harboring.
Matt has his secrets, too, which prevented him from marrying earlier. Regardless, Matt refuses to give up.
Does Matt win Sally? Does she soften her stand? Does she love him? Personally, I hoped for more drama, more conflict as this play ambled along, because there’s so much fodder here. Based on theatergoers’ enthusiastic reaction, they disagree.
BOX INFO: One-act, 97-minute Pulitzer Prize-winning American classic play,written by Lanford Wilson, appearing through April 13, with Merrimack Repertory Theatre, at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell. Showtimes: April 2,3,10, at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays,4,8 p.m.; April 6, at 2,7 p.m.;April 13, at 2 p.m.; April 9, at 2,7:30 p.m. Tickets:$20-$60; student, senior, group discounts. Check also for related events. For tickets and/or performance times, visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678