Though described as a “valentine” by both New Jewish Artistic Director Kathleen Sitzer and director Deanna Jent, “Talley’s Folly” is a perfect holiday gift for this season of Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanza. Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1979 play seems nostalgic yet still highly relevant today with its themes of prejudice, romantic connection and long held secrets.
It’s been many years since we’ve seen this wonderful play on a local stage and I had forgotten how often bitter it could be as it leads these two seemingly polar opposites on the road to inevitable love. Set in 1944, the play centers on Matt Friedman, a St. Louis lawyer who met and fell in love with Sally Talley a year ago on a visit to her hometown of Lebanon, Missouri. Though not making his “move” at that time, he has
popped in from time to time and showered her with letters. Now comes the big moment when he plans to ask for her hand. The only problem is that her family cannot abide him because he is Jewish and have even threatened to shoot him, if necessary, to keep him away from Sally.
So here we are in a dilapidated boathouse on the Talley property that shows hints of past grandeur as this cat and mouse game of finding the love they both feel tries to break the bonds of prejudice, shyness and a tragic secret that Sally has only alluded to in the past. Although this romantic waltz can get downright physical and mean spirited at times, the audience roots for these disparate lovers to come together in the inevitable “happy ending.” Does it happen or are their differences too much to expect a harmonious outcome? During this 90 minute slow but evenly paced one-act, we experience the same highs and lows as Matt and Sally and seem to share each biting as well as tender moment. It’s really quite a lyrical tale that still shows why the critics and audiences were raving in 1979 and still get mesmerized by the play today.
One can’t get through this often gut-wrenching experience without incredible actors and fortunately New Jewish has put two of the best on stage. Shaun Sheley is a gifted actor who draws us in with his comic opening remarks where the “fourth” wall is broken and he invites us into his world. This set up and his closing remarks remind us that we’re watching a play while we become totally absorbed in these two lives throughout the rest of the one-act.
Equally adept is Meghan Maguire as the whimsically rhymed Sally Talley. Hers is the more serious role as she is consumed by this secret that she feels may turn Matt away for good. Hiding behind her family’s prejudice, she tries to shun Matt while secretly wishing he would whisk her away from a world she doesn’t fit in. The actors work beautifully together to fulfill Landford Wilson’s obvious wish for “Talley’s Folly” to
work as a well “choreographed” play.
Bringing that play to just that outcome is Mustard Seed’s Artistic Director, Deanna Jent. Freelancing at NJT, she brings every nuance with moments of joy and anguish to this little masterpiece. Jason Coale’s brilliant set design and the mood enhancing lights of Nathan Schroeder just add to the romance while Michele Friedman Siler’s spot-on costumes catch the mood of the period.
Late-blooming love is a beautiful thing and nobody says it better than Lanford Wilson- who we unfortunately lost last year- in this well crafted play, “Talley’s Folly.” See it through December 23rd at the New Jewish Theatre. Call them at 314-442-3283 or visit at newjewishtheatre.org for tickets or more information.