Story: Jewish accountant Matt Friedman met Sally Talley, a nurse and member of a prominent Protestant family in Lebanon, Missouri, in her home town while vacationing in the Ozarks region in 1943. A year later, Matt returns from his home in St. Louis determined to ask Sally to marry him.
It won’t be easy, though. He spent just one week with her a year earlier, and since then has corresponded primarily with her aunt, as Sally has answered just one of Matt’s many missives in the interim. That hasn’t dissuaded the lonely, 42-year-old Matt, however, nor has the fact that Sally is 11 years younger.
On the Fourth of July, Matt returns to Lebanon, to the gazebo boathouse Sally’s uncle built years ago. It was one of several of the elder Tally’s ‘follies,’ according to neighbors. Sally, though, always has admired her late uncle’s independent spirit, something different from the narrow strictures of acceptance locally, which certainly do not include Jews in 1944.
Highlights: Playwright Lanford Wilson, who died in 2011, was born in Lebanon in 1937, and set his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of 1979 in that familiar locale. Wilson has Matt proclaim at the beginning of the single act that he has “93 minutes” to tell his story to the audience, and Matt does exactly that, with the notable assistance of Sally, the other character in this charming period piece.
While there are reflections and observations about the world at large, including Matt’s own experiences with persecution in Europe before his immigration to America, primarily this is a small story that concentrates on two lonely people who come from different cultures but share a bond of solitary confinement in their environs which they had thought was permanent. The warmth and vulnerability of Matt and Sally, evoked with convincing performances by Shaun Sheley and Meghan Maguire, are effectively realized in director Deanna Jent’s handsome rendition of Wilson’s poignant tale.
Other Info: Jent paces those 93 minutes in fluid fashion, precisely moving her two players around a splendid set designed by Jason Coale that is so emblematic of a small boathouse that you can practically smell the river upon which it sits. Properties master Peggy Knock furnishes the sturdy structure with appropriate accoutrements that fill the rafters and the plank floor in Coale’s design, bracketed with various thistles and reeds.
Nathan Schroeder’s lighting delicately frames the action on stage, Robin Weatherall provides subtle, underpinning sounds and Michele Friedman Siler dresses both characters in their finest attire, despite mid-summer heat.
Jent’s two performers then carefully depict a chess match of helter-skelter moves as their two characters traipse through an awkward and painful dance, circling each other warily as they venture to reveal their hearts. Sheley is the more willing participant. After all, Matt has driven 200 miles on a determined whim to seek this woman who has sparked in him the notion that true love still is possible, despite everything he has endured. Sheley keeps Matt in check, within his meticulous three-piece suit, but allows fissures in his façade to slowly crack in his yearning for Sally.
Maguire brings a steely resolve to Sally, a nurse accustomed to caring for wounded soldiers, some terminal, who have returned from the war. She is used to saying what she knows may not be true as part of the comfort she offers. Her own life has had its share of disappointments since she fell from grace as the likely future wife of the high school basketball star who was the scion of the town’s other wealthy family.
Maguire summons plenty of anger, cynicism and disappointment, all of which have alienated Sally from the townsfolk and labeled her a firebrand who supports union rights and was even seen in the company of a big-city Jew a year earlier.
It’s important to view the setting of Talley’s Folly as a particular place in a specific period. The romance of Matt and Sally, however, knows no boundaries except the limits each of us sets in safeguarding our ‘egg shells’ of existence which Matt perceptibly observes. New Jewish Theatre describes Talley’s Folly as its ‘valentine’ to patrons for the holidays. Take a chance and open it.
Play: Talley’s Folly
Group: New Jewish Theatre
Venue: Wool Theatre, 2 Millstone Campus Drive
Dates: December 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23
Tickets: $35-$39; contact 442-3283 or newjewishtheatre.org
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb