Monday, March 11, 2013

Talley's Folly

I went back and forth throughout most of the 97-minute revival of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly -- first I liked it, then I was bored, then I liked it, until the end when my mind was clearly made up. It proved to be an unexpectedly charming love story that sent me out of the Laura Pels Theatre in high spirits.

What had been pleasing me and alternately annoying me was Danny Burstein’s character, Matt Friedman, a Jewish immigrant who likes to talk -- a lot. Burstein is a gifted actor and the reason I went to see the show. The times in the play when I was restless were the ones where I felt I was seeing a variation on the stock character of the neurotic Jew -- talkative, self-involved, wisecracking. But these moments are relieved by the laugh-out-loud funny ones, complete with the masterful physical comedy of Matt trying to navigate on ice skates across the rotting wooden floorboards of the set, and are fully redeemed at the light-filled ending.

Matt, a 42-year-old never-married accountant, has come on July 4, 1944 to a small town near Lebanon, Missouri, to woo back Sally Talley (Sarah Paulson), a 31-year-old never-married nurse’s aide with whom he had a brief fling the summer before. Matt faces not just the hurtle of an angry Sally who hasn’t heard from him in a year, but the anti-Semitic wrath of her Protestant brother who orders him off the property at gunpoint, something we learn about through Matt. The play features only Matt and Sally, which are all we need.

Both actors are perfect from start to finish, handling the humor, the anger and their revealed painful pasts with exquisite timing and emotion. They portray two wounded souls who have given up on any expectation of love. Or at least Sally has. Matt, the pursuer, has to convince Sally they are meant for each other.

Director Michael Wilson keeps the pace fast, but in terms of movement a little too hyper for me. Since it’s a play about how the past affects a relationship, with no particular action, Wilson seems to be trying to make up for it by having Burstein and Paulson walk up and down the boathouse steps and across the stage almost continually. It is distracting and unrealistic. Less movement would have been appreciated because the story proves to be rich enough.

The folly of the title refers to Sally’s ancestor who wanted a gazebo, but his family objected to having one on the estate so he built a boathouse to look like a gazebo. It is here in this now broken-down and neglected spot that the action takes place. (Nice set by Jeff Cowie.)

 Talley’s Folly was first staged Off-Broadway in 1997 before moving to Broadway the following year, earning Lanford Wilson, who was known as the voice of the American outsider, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play. It is part of Wilson's "Talley Trilogy," which also includes The Fifth of July and Talley and Son.

The revival is produced by Roundabout Theatre Company. Its run has been extended one week, now until May 12. For tickets and information, call (212) 719-1300 or visit

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