Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly takes place on the Talley family property on the evening of July 4th, 1944, in the small Ozark town of Lebanon, Missouri. It is the bittersweet story of two awkward and emotionally wounded people, and their last chance at love. Sally Talley is a 31-year-old Methodist nurses aid. The only daughter in a conservative, wealthy and bigoted family, she shares neither their bigotry nor their views on the capitalism that built her family's fortune. In fact, she has even been fired from teaching Sunday school for promoting the subject of labor unionization to her students. Matt Friedman is a 42-year-old Jewish accountant from St. Louis, who fell in love with Sally a year before the play begins, when he came to Lebanon on vacation. He has spent that year writing her every day, though her only response has been to ask him to stop writing. Filled with the memory of that one week they spent together, and the belief that she may love him, he has come to her home on this night to ask her to marry him.
Lanford Wilson uses a theme of chosen emotional isolationism making real interpersonal connection difficult if not impossible. His characters use the analogy of people walking through their life like eggs; they try not to get so close to one another as to get cracked. Sally and Matt must break free from the shells of their solitude to join their lives and form a union. In order to do this they must first trust one another enough to reveal the painful secrets which have led to their own isolation. What secret events can make one choose such loneliness? For Matt it is the painful remembrance of his family's torture and death as a result of World War I Europe. He fears marital intimacy would bring with it the expectation of fatherhood. And he sees a world filled with war, not one into which he would bring a child. For Sally it is the teenaged illness which left her barren. Her inability to have a child resulted in the disgrace of a broken engagement to the golden child of a prominent family.
It would seem at first that perhaps the "folly" in Talley's Folly is the clumsy courtship of two unlikely lovers. But folly is actually by definition the word used to describe a Victorian boathouse. And it is in the Talley family folly on the river that our play takes place. The once ornate folly with its mini-gazebo was built in 1870 by Sally's uncle. Now it is an unused and neglected boathouse, a private place that only Sally goes - and on this night, Matt as well. It is clear that in a Freudian-esque way, the folly or boathouse may symbolize Sally's womb. Its original function - to house a vessel - is no longer needed. She, like the folly, is neglected and feeling empty. She runs from love out of the fear of rejection. Fearing the same rejection, Matt tentatively puts aside his own fear for this one night in hopes of finding love.
Talley's Folly, Fifth of July and Talley & Son comprise a trilogy of plays written by Lanford Wison called the "Talley Family Series." Though chronologically, Talley's Folly, set in 1944 takes place first, it is Fifth of July which was written first. Set in 1977, it tells the story of the Talley family's struggle with the effects of the Vietnam War, and one of the character Aunt Sally's recent loss of her husband. Wilson later wrote Talley's Folly to tell the story of Aunt Sally and the late Uncle Matthew. The play opened at the Circle Repertory Theatre on May 3, 1979. It moved to Broadway on February 20, 1980 , received the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play, and one Tony Award for Scenic Design (advertisements for this production errantly cite two Tony Awards).
In keeping with the original production's scenic design success, the Broward Stage Door has provided a beautifully executed set with a raked stage. Sound design misses out on providing the night noises of a river at sunset, however. The sounds of birds, crickets, frogs and the water would have fleshed out the setting.
David Birnkrant as Matt is easy and fluid, and possessed of more acting maturity than most actors of his age. Any random lapses in his accent are excusable in light of his strong pacing skills. He really carries the show forward without fail from beat to beat. Rebecca Mills as Sally is slightly less apt in her ability to appear organic, but still pulls her weight. Her direction by Hugh Murphy delivers an overly surly characterization for the first third of the play, and regrettable repeated moments of upstaging herself as she delivered lines turned 2/3 away from audience. But the best of Miss Mills is in the last third of the play when we see the evolvingly tender Sally. True to the opening narrative of the play, Talley's Folly tells this story in all but 97 minutes. And one cannot help but want to share in Wilson's story of the odd romance of Matt and Sally.
Talley's Folly is at the Broward Stage Door Theatre through August 28, 2005. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd. in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theater company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs as well as their 26th Street Theatre location in Ft. Lauderdale are open year round. For tickets and information, you may call 954-344-7765.