Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The time frame for Talley's Folly is 1944, with World War II much on people's minds. Soon after we meet Matt, he is joined by Sally Talley, whose locally prominent family owns the folly, or boat house, that gives the play its name. Matt is a Jewish accountant from St. Louis, who met Sally a year ago in rural south west Missouri where she works as a hospital nursing assistant. They seem to have hit it off splendidly, and when Matt returned to St. Louis he could not give up thoughts of her. Though she did not respond to his frequent letters, he is back to claim a life with her, sure that it is the right thing.
Sally, who lives with her parents in the big house up the hill from the folly, is politically and socially at odds with her conservative family and is eager to move out. But with Matt? She is certain that it is impossible. Matt, at 42, is 11 years older than Sally. Sally's southern Protestant family had been less than welcoming to her Jewish "friend" the year before. Moreover, she seems resolved to live life devoid of romantic fulfillment. Something in her past holds her back, seems to make her feel unworthy of happiness.
Matt arrives knowing all this but determined to win her over, sure that it is his own last chance of happiness. As part of her strategy of resistance, Sally turns the tables on him, pushing behind the screens that hide his past. Where was he born? When did his family come to America? Though he is past the age to be drafted, why had he not volunteered for service in the war? Matt proves to be as clever as Sally at keeping parts of himself hidden, and the two probe one another, with kindness, but also with urgency. The outcome of everything may rest upon what they learn.
The play unfolds beautifully, with tenderness and humor. We feel surges of hope, of Sally giving in to Matt's entreaties, then sink as she recovers her resolve to resist. There are glimmers of light as Matt seems ready to tell Sally about his past, then back to darkness as it turns out to be just a story, as he is a master storyteller. We never are certain which way things will go, but we certainly are made to want this to end with that waltz Matt promised.
This production is directed by Angela Timberman, a highly regarded actor on Twin Cities' stages making her directorial debut, and she wears the role well. Timberman has attended to every element of the story, and draws her two actors to be so attuned to one another that we never doubt the truth in their relationship, whatever may be its outcome.
David Beukema plays Matt, unceasingly likable, with a kind heart, self-deprecating sense of humor, and genuine belief in his mission, though perhaps a shade too confident in the strength of his argumentwe never sense that a part of him harbors terrible fears that Sally will send him away. The pronounced Jewish accent in Matt's speech when he first appears wavers throughout the performance, so that when he declares that he has worked hard to erase his accent, we are unsure if this is actually true, or if it is a case of self-delusion, as many people with accents don't hear that in their own speech. Chelsie Newhard plays Sally, beautifully orchestrating her hard-nosed pragmatism with undertones of tenderness and desire. She can be sharp with Matt, yet it is always evident that she cares for her irrepressible suitor. The two work together beautifully, each fully enmeshed in the others presence.
The physical production greatly assists, creating a setting in which it would be hard to resist a call to fall in love. Joel Sass has designed a beautiful folly, where the entire play takes place. It is cluttered and in some disrepair, but still displays the love and care with which it was built. Two docks protrude from the folly with a rowboat tethered between them, and behind the folly, trees provide an embracing canopy. Overhead, the moon shines, first dimly, then ever brighter, with Mary Shabatura's lovely lighting design working its magic. Sound plays a key role too, with barking dogs, chirping crickets, the lap of the river against the shore, and a small town band across the water playing a Fourth of July concert, all aiding and abetting the plot. E. My Hill's costumes provide perfect cover for the churning feelings within these two lonely people.
From the 1960's, when he was among the pioneers of the Off-Off-Broadway movement, through the turn of the millennium, Lanford Wilson was one of our most prolific playwrights. Three of his plays were nominated for the Best Play Tony Award, including Talley's Folly, which was awarded the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for drama. This may be Wilson's simplest playonly two characters, with a 95 minute playing time, but as in all his work, the characters carry both full hearts and lingering wounds, drawing us to care deeply about them.
Artistry has given this lovely play as beautiful and heartfelt a production as you are likely to see. Talley's Folly is a heart-warming play, one that can make you believe in the power of honesty and moonlight, and the joy to be found in the rhythms of a waltz.
Talley's Folly continues through July 24, 2016, in the Black Box Theater at Artistry, Bloomington Center for the Arts, 1800 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, MN. Tickets: $28.00 - $30.00; Seniors, age 62 and up: $24:00 - $26.00; Age 18 and younger: $19.00 - $21.00. Student Rush for unsold seats, $10.00, available 15 minutes before the performance valid ID required, limit 2 tickets, cash only. For tickets call 952-563-8375 or go to artistrymn.org.
Writer: Lanford Wilson; Director: Angela Timberman; Set Design: Joel Sass; Costume Design: E. Amy Hill; Lighting Design: Mary Shabatura; Sound Design: Katherine Horowitz; Sound Engineer: Katie Deutsch; Properties Design: Amy Reddy; Production Stage Manager: Elizabeth Stauble; Production Manager/Technical Director: Chris Carpenter; Producing Artistic Director: Benjamin McGovern
Cast: David Beukema (Matthew Friedman), Chelsie Newhard (Sally Talley)