Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Talley's Folly
The Vortex Theatre
Review by Carole C. Sullivan

Also see Dean's review of Sunday in the Park with George

Bryan Hertweck, Jessica Alden,
Caitlin Kelly, and Ludwig Puchmayer

Photo by Broken Chain Photography
Talley's Folly depicts one night in the lives of two unlikely sweethearts, Matt Friedman and Sally Talley. The one-act play takes place in a boathouse on the Talley farm in Missouri on the Fourth of July, 1944.

Talley's Folly was written by American playwright Lanford Wilson (1937-2011) and debuted on Broadway in 1980. It is the second in The Talley Trilogy, between his plays Talley & Son and Fifth of July. The romantic comedy follows Matt and Sally as they settle their feelings for each other on this momentous night. Wilson received the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work. The play is a classic of modern American theatre.

Lanford Wilson was a pioneer of the Off-Off-Broadway and regional theatre movements. His plays are known for experimental staging, simultaneous dialogue, and deferred character exposition. In 1969, along with longtime associate Marshall W. Mason and others, Wilson founded the Circle Theater Company (later Circle Repertory Company) in New York City. He remained involved with Circle Repertory until 1996, when it closed. Wilson achieved commercial success with The Great Nebula in Orion (1971), The Hot l Baltimore (1973), and The Mound Builders (1975). Other plays include The Gingham Dog (1969), Lemon Sky (1970), Angels Fall (1982), Burn This (1987), Redwood Curtain (1993), Sympathetic Magic (1997), and Book of Days (1998).

Critic Ben Brantley wrote that, "Lanford Wilson was an interesting combination of 1960s and 1970s sort of disenchantment with the state of the nation. A couple of his plays, at least, featured embittered Vietnam veterans. At the same time, he harked back to the era of more sentimental plays–of portraits of losers on the margins of life."

Wilson's work is significant for its characters and themes. His plays contain the greatest menagerie of characters in contemporary American drama–drag queens, freaks, prostitutes, academics, priests–for the most part likable because Wilson has a special sympathy for the losers and lost of society. He classified most people, including himself, in this category.

Talley's Folly introduces two mature misfits who have nearly given up on love but finally find solace in each other's arms. Sally Talley is the family outcast. She is not married at 31 and has very progressive ideas that collide with her family's small-town values. Forty-two-year-old Matt Friedman is a radical Jewish accountant who lost his family during the war. Matt does not want children because of this loss; Sally cannot have children because of an early illness. The play consists of their verbal sparring–Matt's persistence, Sally's attempts to chase him away, their anger, their jokes and repartee, their reminiscences, and finally their confessions–Matt wins her hand.

Talley's Folly is an excellent vehicle for two good actors. Director Brandon A. McDaniel has double cast with four seasoned professionals to bring Sally and Matt to life. Jessica Alden and Caitlin Kelly play Sally, and Bryan Hertweck and Ludwig Puchmayer play Matt. They alternate performances and partners. On opening night, I saw Jessica Alden as Sally and Ludwig Puchmayer as Matt.

The play is mostly dialogue and extraordinarily little action. There is humor in some of the dialogue, but this production downplays the humor. The set, although interesting and constructed well, is all browns and grays and rather dark. Even though it is night, I wanted to see the characters' faces. I also wanted more noise, music and light from the fireworks going on across the river. Costumes are adequate, but here again I wanted more color in Sally's dress, especially. In general, the production is static with few builds and variation in pace and tone.

The actors seem to be rushing through the dialogue; they do not take time to really connect. The audience needs to care about these characters. There is not much evidence of a spark between them. Even as they come together at the end, the intimate action is perfunctory. They need to touch and make eye contact. It is hard to believe they had sustained interest in each other over time and distance and are now making a real commitment. With two casts, perhaps the actors did not have the time to settle and respond to each other with nuance.

The play is somewhat dated and is a time capsule of the world toward the end of World War II. It also illustrates the state of Off-Broadway theatre in 1980. There are bigger ideas about society in Talley's Folly, but they are not emphasized in this production.

For all his focus on the underdogs and misfits of society, Lanford Wilson still believed that even in a bleak and uncaring world, people can find peace and meaning in personal relationships. This sustains us at the end of the play. All in all this is a production worth your time and attention.

Talley's Folly runs through July 21, 2024, at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays, July 13 and 20 at 2:00 pm. General Admission $24, Students & SAG/AFTRA $19. For tickets and information, please visit or call 505-247-8600

Directed by Brandon A. McDaniel, Stage Manager Madeline Rose Bilan. Cast: Bryan Hertweck and Ludwig Puchmayer as Matthew Friedman, Caitlin Kelly and Jessica Alden as Sally Talley.