Next Stage Repertory Company, the new professional theater in Medford, gave Lanford Wilson's "Talley's Folly" a warm and intimate production to kick off its inaugural season Thursday night at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater.
Next Stage Repertory Company, the new professional theater in Medford, gave Lanford Wilson's "Talley's Folly" a warm and intimate production to kick off its inaugural season Thursday night at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater. Next Stage Rep is a project of the Craterian's Stephen McCandless and actors Doug Warner, who directed, and Peter Alzado and Kate Sullivan, who portray the play's lovers.
Next Stage's first season will feature small-cast plays and short runs, to fit with the Craterian's busy presenting schedule, and bargain prices, with all tickets this season selling for $10.
The folly of "Talley's Folly" isn't primarily the love affair of the two socially clumsy loners, as the title might suggest. It's the old boathouse where the action takes place.
It's the Fourth of July, 1944, in Lebanon, Mo., and Matt Friedman, a 48-year-old Jew from St. Louis, is wooing 38-year-old spinster Sally Talley, whose rich, conservative Protestant family would not be tolerant of such a match. The boathouse was the creation of an eccentric uncle of Sally's, a man who was evidently no stranger to folly, back in 1870.
"Talley's Folly" was the middle play in Lanford Wilson's trilogy of Talley plays, but it's the first one chronologically in the plays' world. It's short, 97 minutes as Matt tells us at the start, straightforward, romantic and elegant, with sharply drawn characters (especially Matt), and one of the oldest of themes: that true love can triumph over all.
Alzado and Sullivan have real chemistry as the lovers, and Wilson has upped the tension with the familiar device of a leading lady who seemingly can't stand her leading man, a dynamic that Warner's sure-handed direction plays up, and Sullivan gets a lot of mileage out of. Both characters dance around their secrets — Matt even tells us the play is a waltz — for most of the evening.
Doug Ham's boathouse set is a striking assemblage of carpentry, lattice and forgotten gewgaws set off by a big ol' Missouri moon and the hint of willow trees, all bathed in the mottled early evening of Brad Nelson's lights. There are the night noises of the river, including that of a bird that, at least in Missouri, apparently sings at night.
With Sally's family not present in this two-person play, the only real opposition to Matt's wooing of Sally comes not from the older generation in the classic pattern of comedy (although they consider Matt "more of a threat than Roosevelt himself") but from Sally herself. The play gathers force as reluctant, standoffish Sally accuses Matt of barging in, demands that he leave and tells him he does not have "the perception God gave lettuce."
Warner keeps his actors on opposite sides of the set as if to make physical our perception of their isolation. The speech employed by the characters also underscores the gulf between them. Matt speaks in rhythms that are just Jewish enough that we can sense the Yiddish he grew up with in Europe, while Sally speaks a border-states version of a Southern drawl. Matt does his wooing indirectly, coming like a counter-puncher from all angles with stories, parables, riddles, ironies, while Sally is direct and all-American in her dismissals.
Matt compares people to eggs. We're so afraid of being shaken and cracked that we try to keep our distance, each of us afraid of becoming Humpty-Dumpty.
Secrets come out. Sally was fired from teaching Sunday School for giving a lesson on Thorstein Veblen. Her family-sanctioned match with the scion of another prominent local family fell through when it was discovered that she would be incapable of having children because of an infection she got from a bout with tuberculosis.
But now this is kismet, since in a plot twist that's almost too clever, Matt is dead set against having children. He lost family members to torture and death in World War I in Europe, from which he fled to America with no desire to bring children into a war-torn world. And now there's Sally, with whom it's not even an issue. Who would have thought?
Sally's barrenness also mirrors the boathouse that is the play's folly — an aging, once-beautiful something designed to contain something within itself but now empty. There are other resonances. Sally's family's business is clothing, and they're manufacturing military uniforms. They are thus profiting from war, the human activity that has cost Matt so much.
As Matt and Sally talk about economics, business and labor, there is a sense of how the larger world of affairs affects the lives of everyday people, although the focus in the end is on intimacy.
Wilson died earlier this year, and Next Stage is dedicating its season to him. This "Talley's Folly" is a little gem marking the advent of locally produced professional theater in Medford. It closes its short run at 7:30 tonight. Tickets are $10.
Coming next from Next Stage is Donald Churchill's "The Decorator," opening Jan. 5.
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at email@example.com.