Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson, directed by Greg Leaming
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...on a relish spread."
Todd Cerveris as Matt and Angela Reed as Sally; photo: Harry Lee
July 4th, 1944 in an old boathouse, or "folly" on the river near Lebanon, Missouri was an auspicious day in the life of Miss Sally Talley. It was that day of independence when she gave up her own to marry Matt Friedman, the exotic Jewish man born in Europe and living 200 hundred miled away from this spot her family owns but ignores. It was that day that Aunt Charlotte, or Lottie, got her way and foisted the nurses aide onto the accountant, got her off the property out of their lives, rid the family of their embarassment by using sugar instead of salt. And all Miss Lottie did was get them both, Sally and Matt, down to the Folly, to Talley’s Folly.
On the stage at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Dorset, Vermont this simple story is played out by real life husband and wife actors Todd Cerveris and Angela Reed. Reed is tall, slender, attractive in a 1940's way but without the glamour that so many women pulled onto themselves to attract a man. Cerveris is ethnic without making himself unpleasant about it - an accent that sneaks in when he’s not paying attention that says "foreign" or "yid" but never too clearly to be disconcerting. Together they make an odd couple in this play but they make one that works. It is obvious, from the start, that they belong together, but the trick is figuring out before them how to make that happen.
Sally is intent on family, her existing family. Matt is a loner who doesn’t want to be a loner. He doesn’t want kids; his own childhood was so traumatic that he fears what growing up could do to his offspring. Sally is his ideal mate in so many ways, but she fights him, tooth and nail, over this and other issues, even though she is his ideal mate.
The scrapping the two of them do is the heart of this play and the secrets revealed hurt the hearer more than they do the teller in each and every case. For a while it seems that if they stay together, even for this one day, this day of liberation, they could destroy themselves and one another at the same time.
A play about love that rarely uses the word "love," Talley’s Folly is as strong and moving a piece today as it was when it was first produced back in 1979 and winning the Pulitzer Prize. In the hands, bodies and voices of Cerveris and Reed it is both touching and beautiful while remaining hard and defined, a jewel cut to perfectionand set that way as well.
On Nathan Heverin’s excellent set, a decrepit old boat house and dock, Matt and Sally seem locked into spaces that cannot expel them. There is something about this open-air closed-in world they inhabit for 97 minutes that is just right for their deep-seeded needs. Josh Bradford’s lighting continues the effort to enclose these people as end of day becomes early night with a moon that rises but never high, travels but only wide, enlightens their histories but never their futures. Aided by the excellent ambient sounds provided by Daniel Baker, Talley’s world is complete with night crawlers, crickets and a band concert across the river that helps to complete the picture of Sally’s world. It is a world she knows before she hears it, before she smells it. It is a world designed to hold her securely, even if she claims to want change. It would be a hard world to leave even though she knows that it no longer cherishes her. Sound, light, presence make this all so very real for the audience.
Greg Leaming has given his actors a fascinating place to discover. Matt describes it in ways we never experience it. Leaming moves his pair of players into and out of intimacies without making a single mistake. If one of them turns a back to us we are only kept from a facial expression and not from the impact of that expression on the other player. It’s a job well done, accomplished by three creative and interpretive artists who know what they’re doing. As a team they make Talley’s Folly into Talley’s Triumph.
This is a near-perfect production of a one-act play that started Wilson on the road to The Fifth of July (also written in 1979). The Talleys were not done yet, not by a long shot and seeing this play will tell you why that is so. Here, in Lebanon Missourie, there are people with passion.
Talley’s Folly will play through July 15 at the Dorset Theatre Festival located at 104 Cheney Road in Dorset, Vermont. Ticket prices range from$30-$35; the show plays Wednesday through Sunday. For curtain times and tickets call 802-867-5777.
Cerveris, as Matt, falls through a hole in the dock; photo: Harry Lee