For the week of November 11 thru November 17, 1998  

Midwestern, mid-life love or the-way-we-were eggs

"Talley’s Folly"

Express Staff Writer

As with other Landford Wilson plays, the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Talley’s Folly" depends a great deal on an intricately imagined past. While writing the play’s companion piece, "Fifth of July" Wilson drafted a Talley family history and became entranced by a daughter he named Sally. He imagined a mid-life love set in the middle west and crafted a mate, Matt Friedman, to make "Talley’s Folly" "the sweet valentine it should be."

The treasured drama, one the playwright has called a "personal favorite" and "more perfect than anything I’ve ever written," opens Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey. Starring Claudia McCain and Rusty Wilson, the Company of Fools production is directed by Denise Simone with sets and lighting by Justin Rowland.

It is Fourth of July weekend 1944. The 97 minutes of the play take place in the Talley family’s folly – an elaborately conceived boathouse groaning under the gewgaws of Gothic Revival gingerbread, overhung by maples and weeping willow, decrepit, rotting and in need of repair. The folly stands as the family, both in need of restoration – a restoration that will be brought about by the lead characters’ love.

Matt Friedman, a 42-year-old Jewish accountant from St. Louis, has driven down to the central-southern Missouri town of Lebanon intent on resolving his romance with Sally. Sally, only 31, is already spinsterish, unhappy with her lot, living at home with "hypocrites and fools."

Matt and Sally met the previous year at a dance at the Shrine Mosque. Matt drives Sally home from the dance and every other night of his holiday in Lebanon. The Talley’s dislike him for his Jewishness, lack of patriotism and beard, and Sally’s father declares him "more dangerous than Roosevelt himself."

But Matt is in love and, back home in St. Louis, he writes letters to Sally only one of which she answers telling him not to write again.

As the play opens– house lights show Matt alone on the stage– we learn this never-before-married man has decided to propose. He waits in the boathouse, and as a kind of chorus or stage manager in the manner of Thornton Wilder’s "Our Town," he frames the story, sets the scene and tells the audience the play "should be a waltz, one-two-three, one-two-three, a no-holds-barred romantic story."

Matt is a complex character with an atrocious youth in prewar Europe and perspicacity that informs him Sally is guarding a secret. He’s good at math and can add up the pulses and minuses of their union. He reveals himself to Sally when she asks him if he’s ever been married.

He talks of his family’s detainment by the Germans, his sister’s murder by the French. He has no political allegiance and has sworn never to have children who could conceivably be martyred to a political cause. Alone, a bachelor, his conviction not to have children has left him in a shell and he explains himself in an extended metaphor.

"This guy told me we were eggs," he tells Sally, "and we must not knock against each other or we will crack our shells and be of no use. Since we are isolated in our shells, we never really communicate."

Sally is afraid to crack the shell and puts Matt off, but feels accountable to her suitor and is moved to reveal her secret.

The denouncement is touching– a personal tragedy paradoxically turned to a long-lasting, loving relationship.

"This is a play that is so beautifully written and, in my opinion, performed that the audience will leave the theater feeling like they’ve just completed a very lovely waltz," said Simone.

"Talley’s Folly" runs Thursday through Sunday this weekend and next. All performances are at 8 p.m. except Sundays’ which are at 3 p.m. Tickets are $13 for adults, $10 students available at Chapter One Bookstore and Read All About it. Guests staying at Povey Pensione receive a special ticket price of $10 and Bellevue Bistro, Clemente’s, DaVinci’s, Eric’s and Sun Valley Café at the Brewery offer discounts for ticket holders. For details call, 788-6520.


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