At the very beginning of Lanford Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Talley's Folly, currently playing at A Contemporary Theatre, we are informed that the show is going to be both a valentine and a waltz. Thus informed, we know we are in for a romance presented at a leisurely pace and not an evening of surprises. This fact is further strengthened by the knowledge that Talley's Folly is a prequel to Lanford's The Fifth of July, and in fact was written concurrently as character background for Aunt Sally. Luckily, what the show lacks in suspense, it more than makes up for with an intimate evening of fine acting and excellent direction.
Before I go any further, let me state for the record that I am not fond of 'theater-in-the-round.' I have seen far too many such shows in which I have been rudely jolted out of the world of the show by seeing audience members talking, reading their program or picking their noses just beyond the actors. Further complicating matters is that far too few directors know how to handle 360 degrees of viewing space, thus forcing me to either look at actor's backside for far too long, or watch a virtual tennis match of movement, as the director tries to keep the show in constant motion.
For the first time, I have seen the benefits of 'in the round' staging, especially with an intimate show like Talley's Folly. Director Timothy Near, the artistic director of San Jose Rep, made the evening flow seamlessly and effortlessly through natural moments and movements. She was greatly assisted by an incredible set design by James Youman, who brought to life one of the 'follies' in question; a decaying Victorian boathouse that perfectly sets the stage for the night's events. Set smack dab in the center of the audience, this gingerbread confection not only provides unlimited possibilities for blocking, with its gates, seats, boats and bridges complete with water underneath, but also serves to obscure the audience on the other side, thus providing the illusion that we are spectators on a hillside overlooking the couple.
With its winning characters, pleasant script, brilliant set and effortless direction, Talley's Folly provides a welcome change from fast paced reality, and offers 97 minutes of escape into a world of delicate emotions and a more leisured pace. Talley's Folly runs through June 11th at A Contemporary Theatre. For more information, or to order tickets, call the box office at (206) 292-7676 or visit their website at www.acttheatre.org.