Talley’s Folly is a beautifully written two-person play by Lanford Wilson, reinventing the timeless love story of a couple who, despite their many differences are trying to find a way to make their love work. As Matt Friedman, played endearingly by Louis Lavoie says, “It is a waltz…a no-holds barred romantic story.” Sally Talley, acted intriguingly by Rebecca Ellis, is angry that Matt has come to her home unexpectedly. From the beginning, the audience senses the pain and longing in the two and begins to hope that the couple may connect. The joy of the play includes the discoveries of what barriers exist between them. What barriers are a result of the prejudices and expectations of the time and location (July 4, 1944 and Lebanon, Missouri) and which are self-constructed barriers?
Once the relationship is established, the acting in this production builds an honest tension that is maintained and grows as the play progresses. That is a challenge in this play that Director Aly Ettman helps the actors overcome. Each of the characters is disillusioned with their own families and their current life situation. Lavoie’s Matt is charming and funny, despite being beaten down; and he is wonderfully determined to capture this woman who he can no longer imagine life without. There are many mysteries revealed throughout the play, but at the center is Sally, who Matt and the audience find maddeningly afraid to commit. Ellis carefully peels back the layers of Sally, building a woman who is very independent, and yet afraid of many things, not the least of which, is the expectations of her prominent family.
The lighting design by E-hui Woo evokes the changing relationship as it does the darkening evening. What doesn’t work as well for me is Woo’s minimal set design, which too frequently took me out of the story. The play’s title refers to the setting for the play, a rundown boathouse built in the style of a gazebo. It was built on a whim as a “folly,” by Sally’s Uncle Whistler, who seems to have shared her eccentric, independent streak. Not only would a more fully-realized set have offered an analogy for the folly of Sally’s current life and beliefs and help us understand her, but it would have provided visually interesting options for the actors to play around, which I found wanting. While the play is a two-character love story, I think the setting for this show almost acts as a third character, and I missed the information that could be deduced from it.
Peter Alley Theatre Productions’ Talley’s Folley is very well-acted, and in the intimate space of Theatre on the Run, the two actors tell it with subtlety and respect and a great deal of talent.
Running Time: 97 minutes, without an intermission.
Talley’s Folly plays through March 6, 2016 at Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions performing at Theatre on The Run – 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase at the door, or online.