REVIEW: MOVING TALLEY'S FOLLY MARKS SUMMIT PLAYHOUSE'S RETURN TO LIVE THEATER
By Ruth Ross
In the 18th and 19th centuries, wealthy individuals often erected a classical ruin called a “folly” on their estates to enhance the landscape. Its aged look reinforced the (often false) impression that the family and the estate had existed for a very long time.
The eponymous folly in Lanford Wilson romantic comedy Talley's Folly, now onstage at the Summit Playhouse, is a decrepit-looking boathouse on the Mississippi River in rural Lebanon, Missouri, built on the Talley estate by Uncle Everett Talley in 1870, a Victorian edifice complete with louvers, slats and various geegaws.
Derived from the French word for “foolish,” the term also refers to the lack of good sense or judgment, referencing the love affair between two oddly matched lovers at the heart of the “no holds barred romantic comedy,” Matt Friedman, a 42-year-old bachelor, and Sally Talley, the 30-year-old only daughter of a wealthy conservative, Protestant businessman.
Co-directors Joann Scanlon and Jeanne Johnston purposely pace the performances so that the play unfolds slowly—in what feels like real time—as the sun goes down and the stars appear. This languid tempo allows events to stealthily sneak up on the audience, providing an element of surprise as layers are peeled away from the characters’ facades to reveal their true selves.
Miriam Salerno is wonderful as Sally, a college graduate who calls herself a “liberal” and who is desperate to escape the stultifying atmosphere of her rural hometown. Under Matt’s questioning about why she is unwed at the age of 30, Sally is forced to face the skeletons in her own closet, which instead of forcing the two lovers apart brings them closer together. Salerno is maddeningly sassy, sarcastic, cruel and sensitive and easy not to like very much, but once her secrets are laid bare—in an emotionally wrenching scene played to perfection—she, too, wins our sympathy.
Roy Pancirov’s elaborate set does more than suggest a Victorian boathouse, it takes us there, down to the overturned rowboat with a hole in it, a set of life preservers, a bench, and lots of rope hanging from the columns. Joe Hupcey’s lighting design beautifully shows the passage of time. I only wish that Wendy Roome’s sound design would have had the crickets and croaking frog sounds last more than a just short time to evoke the coming of evening. Ann Lowe has provided costumes that tell us a great deal about the characters: Matt in a three-piece suit appropriate for an accountant, Sally in a pretty flowered dress she’s changed into from her hospital uniform, thus signaling the young girl beneath the brittle, rather sterile exterior.
Winner of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize and Drama Critics' Circle Award, Talley's Folly is the middle play of a trilogy about the Talley family, but you do not have to know the others to get pleasure from this one. The play's charm builds gradually, so that you might find yourself getting a bit antsy for something to happen beyond verbal sparring. When each character finally opens up, this mostly talky play really blooms dramatically, so that the ending is both appropriate and satisfactory. The second half of the play, when the light shines on these two lovers’ pasts, is so beautifully rendered that a tear slid down behind my mask as the stage lights went down!
If you are unfamiliar with the prolific Lanford Wilson's oeuvre, Talley's Folly is a nice introduction. While the time and place may be very particular, the themes he examines are supremely human and applicable to all. Keeping secrets is never a good idea, especially for romantic situations to succeed.
Talley's Folly will run through November 6 at the Summit Playhouse, 10 New England Avenue, Summit. For information and tickets, go to app.arts-people.com/index.php or visit www.thesummitplayhouse.org.
*Proof of vaccine is required at the door for all audience members ages 12 and older. Masks are required for all audience members.