Talley’s Folly (Workhouse Theatre Co., through March 11) is the late and greatly lamented (he died not quite a year ago) Lanford Wilson‘s most-performed play. In part, the reason for this is practical: Talley’s Folly is a two-hander, featuring two easily castable characters. A simple set, a falling-apart Victorian boathouse – the eponymous folly – is all the play requires. Many theaters, feeling a deep need to keep budgets manageable, glom onto this piece.
Ah, but this isn’t the play’s only appeal, not by any means. Talley’s Folly is one of the most romantic, one of the sweetest plays ever penned. Set at night, on the 4th of July, fireflies gleaming, a Shakespearean moon burning in the sky, Matt Friedman, an immigrant Jew living in hot and smoggy St. Louis comes to picturesque Lebanon, Missouri to woo and (he hopes desperately) win “Crazy Sally” Talley. Driven back by the Talley family’s howling anti-Semitism, Matt retires to the old boathouse to await his beloved. She arrives bellowing with anger (and having donned her best dress, fixing her hair just so). Matt charms (he has the gift of gab, and then some), cajoles, and sets about convincing Sally that they represent each other’s last best hope.
Were ever two characters more different and yet so perfect for each other? Matt is 42, Sally 31. Not so old these days, but ancient in 1945 (when the play is set). The two had a “brief encounter” the previous summer (Wilson is properly vague about this; I have my theory, no doubt you’ll have yours). Since then Matt has written every day, made an unrequited (Sally refused to see him) visit to the hospital where Sally works as a nurse’s aide. Now he is here to finally have it out with her. Talley’s Folly develops the difficult, often comic, always compelling process of convincing Sally that love, inevitably, wins. Beautiful.
Working on a terrific, albeit loud (oh, that unmuffled lumber) set by Matthew Foster, nicely lit by Mark Webb, Bruce Abas and Jaime Kleiman do lovely work. Abas as Matt strikes the perfect balance between nervousness and excitement. He carries the play, judging Sally perfectly, making direct assaults when he senses vulnerability, pulling away as she gets her back up, never letting up. That he loves her, desperately, is never in doubt. Kleiman plays Sally with an archness and reserve that I initially found a tad off-putting. She won me over, though, with her impish smile and a building feel of her love for Matt. The show feels slightly under-rehearsed, with a herky-jerky rhythm. But these are minor complaints; this is very good production (directed by Mark Hauck) of a delightful script.
Workhouse (not to be confused with Workhaus, the playwright-centric company which usually produces at the Playwrights Center) bills itself as the only independent theater performing in North Minneapolis. It presents plays at the Warren, located at 4400 Osseo Rd., in the Camden neighborhood. The plays chosen are solid – Oleanna, How I Learned To Drive, ‘night, Mother (which won an Ivey) – if unambitious (these plays have all been produced locally before). Next up: Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. If you reside in N. Minneapolis or in the northern burbs, check Workhouse out.
For more info about John Olive, please visit his website.