Celebrated author Lanford Wilson (1937–2011) won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Talley’s Folly,” a tender two-person, one-act romantic comedy. It’s one of the plays in Wilson’s trilogy about the Talley family of Lebanon, Missouri. Aurora will be presenting the two other plays in the trilogy, Wilson’s “Fifth of July” from April 17 through May 17, 2015, and four private staged readings of the less produced “Talley & Son” in April.
Bay Area veteran actor and director Joy Carlin directs inspired performances by Lauren English, as the unmarriageable 30-year old Sally Talley, and Rolf Saxon, as 40-something Matt Friedman, a Jewish émigré accountant from St. Louis, who shows up on July 4, 1944 at the Talley boathouse (or folly) to propose marriage to Sally.
The two haven’t seen each other in the year since Matt met Sally while he vacationed in her hometown, but the ardent Matt has written to Sally daily since then. Not dissuaded by her lack of reply, and her gentile family’s prejudice against him, Matt takes his heart in his hand and charmingly exposes his most intimate secrets and thoughts to Sally, while cajoling her to reciprocate. This is not an easy exercise for either of these tarnished souls. But perhaps, despite their apparent differences, there could be a meeting of minds and hearts.
Before the action of the play begins, actor Rolf Saxon as Matt, introduces the scene to the audience, explaining that the play will take ninety-seven minutes and he hopes to relate his story fittingly in that time. He tells the audience that the gazebo-like structure next to him is a Victorian boathouse, which has unfortunately fallen into disrepair. The artful scenic design by Jon Tracy and the intimate setting of Harry’s Upstairs theatre with merely 49 seats both add to the sense that we are eavesdropping on a memorable private conversation.
The play’s title, a double entendre that speaks not only to the couple’s meeting place, but also to the notion of Sally finding a soul mate at all, no less in Matt Friedman, gives prominence to their story as part of the Talley family saga. “Talley’s Folly“ is actually the second play that Wilson wrote about the family. The first was 1979’s “Fifth of July,” which explores America’s disillusionment in the wake of the Vietnam War as it affects the Talley family and their friends. “Talley & Son,” the rarely performed third play in Wilson’s trilogy, takes place on the same day as “Talley’s Folly,” and concerns battles among the Talley fathers and sons over the family business.
With two marvelously subtle and touching performances by Lauren English and Rolf Saxon under the gentle direction by Joy Carlin, the award-winning “Talley’s Folly“ is a joy.
Review previously appeared in berkeleyside.com