Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Talley's Folly

Brian Wallace and Erin Joy Schmidt
Palm Beach Dramaworks presents Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly. Talley's Folly, Fifth of July and Talley & Son comprise a trilogy of plays 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, Fifth of July tells the story of the Talley family's struggle with the effects of the Vietnam War, and of the character Aunt Sally's recent loss of her husband Matt. Wilson later wrote Talley's Folly to tell the story of Aunt Sally and the late Uncle Matthew. A Pulitzer Prize winner, the play opened at the Circle Repertory Theatre on May 3, 1979, then moved to Broadway on February 20, 1980, where it won a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play, and a Tony Award for Best Scenic Design.

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 nurse's aid. The only daughter in a conservative, wealthy and bigoted family, she shares neither their bigotry nor their views on the capitalism that built the family fortune. In fact, she has 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.

A folly is 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. It is a private place that only Sally goes—and on this night, Matt as well. Both Matthew and Sally, like the folly, have arrived at a place in their lives when they are feeling neglected and empty. The playwright uses the theme of chosen emotional isolationism; his characters speak of people walking through their lives like eggs, desperately trying not to get close enough to one another to "get cracked." Sally and Matt struggle to break free from the shells of their loneliness to pursue a romantic relationship. But, in order to do this they must first trust one another enough to reveal the painful secrets which have led to their own self-imposed isolation. Their "folly" on this night is that, despite their fears of rejection, they may finally find acceptance and love.

The scenic design for this production is beautifully done by Michael Amico. The stage is filled with intricate layers of the once grand folly, now fallen into disrepair and used for random storage. The fading light of day filters through slats and lattice work. The attention to detail is keen, from gardening tools in the rafters to dusty corners touched with crumpled leaves tracked into the boat house. Sound effects of the chirping of crickets, distant passing trains, and a band concert across the river immerse the audience in the moment at hand.

Brian Wallace is engaging as Matt. He has a quirky, earnest quality and a touch of humor that helps the audience side with him in his pursuit of Sally. As Sally remains immovable for most of the show, it is important that we want him to succeed. Erin Joy Schmidt is a strong Sally, determined without being bitter or cold. Her only flaw is that her tendency to work her open mouth as though struggling with her emotions and keeping her words at bay sometimes looks like a fish gasping for air. She and Wallace work amazingly well together. Each moment is made real in their capable hands. Their conversation ebbs and flows seamlessly as they speak both to and over one another. They make a potentially difficult script seem so easy that the 97-minute tale flies by before we are quite ready to say goodbye to the clumsy courtship of this unlikely couple.

This Palm Beach Dramaworks production of Talley's Folly will be appearing at Don & Ann Brown Theatre through November 11, 2012. Palm Beach Dramaworks is a professional, not-for-profit theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors and actresses. Their goal is to engage and entertains audiences with provocative and timeless productions that personally impact each individual. The theatre is located at 201 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. For tickets and information you may reach them by phone at 561-514-4042, or online at

Matt Friedman: Brian Wallace*
Sally Tally: Erin Joy Schmidt*

Director:J. Barry Lewis**
Scenic Design: Michael Amico
Lighting Design: Ron Burns
Sound Design: Matt Corey
Costume Design:Brian O'Keefe
Stage Manager: James Danford*

*Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

**Designates member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

Photo: Alicia Donelan

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