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A CurtainUp Berkshires Berkshire Review
Talley's Folley

The Porches Inn

Now, you would think that this remote wood, on this remote and unimportant, but sometimes capricious, river -- that world events would not touch this hidden place. But such is not the case. There is a house on the hill up there, and there is a family that is not at peace but in grave danger of prosperity. And there is a girl in the house on the hill up there who is a terrible embarassment to her family because she remembers that old hope and questions this new fortune and questioning eyes are hard to come by nowadways. . .
---Matt Friedman, his introduction, establishing the larger issues surrounding his romance with " that girl in the house on the hill. "

Mark Nelson & Kate Jennings Grant
Mark Nelson & Kate Jennings Grant
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
My major disappointment with last fall's Lanford Wilson season at the Signature Theatre (see links below) was that the last-minute unavailability of Cynthia Nixon led to a cancellation of Talley's Folly, the Pulitzer prize-winning two-hander from Wilson's World War II trilogy. Happily, the missing link is now filled in by the Berkshire Theatre Festival's lovely production starring Mark Nelson and Kate Jennings Grant.

While Nixon's name probably is a bigger box office draw and she is indeed a luminous actress who rarely gives a less than memorable performance, Kate Jennings Grant gets her half of the seemingly mismatched romantic duo just right. Her Sally Talley, who by 1944 standards is at thirty-one a practically middle-aged old maid, is scrappy and often short-tempered -- and oh so achingly vulnerable. Nelson's Matt Friedman, the more showy of the two characters, is on the mark as the forty-two-year accountant who is on the surface less inhibited than Sally, but just as much one of life's wounded. Anders Cato, like Wilson's most frequent director, Marshall Mason, has brought out all the shadings of Wilson's dialogue and characters. making what could easily seem dated richly rewarding .

Living as we do in an age where people reveal their darkest and most intimate secrets on TV, single women in their thirties are hardly social pariahs, and with interfaith marriages and ten year (or more) age differences hardly raise an eyebrow, Sally and Matt's story may smack of nostalgia, but there's nothing yesteryear about Wilson's sparkling dialogue. The ninety-seven minutes are full of talk but not talky. Sally and Matt might not be candidates for the Jerry Springer show, but their emotions channeled through Grant and Nelson, are the genuine article.

If you're familiar with the whole Talley oeuvre, you'll know that Sally Talley turns up in Fifth of July as Aunt Sally Friedman who's been hanging on too long to her husband's remains. Even without having seen that play, which was actually written well before Talley's Folly, it won't take you long to realize that the two people waltzing around the respective l fortresses they have built around their emotions will come tumbling down before the curtain call. Matt has after all come from Springfield to ask Sally's anti-Semitic brother for her hand and has confided to us that "if everything goes well for me tonight this should be a waltz one-two-thre, one-two-three, a no-holds-barred romantic story."

The Folly of the title is a Victorian boat house built by Sally's grandfather and created with a loving eye for every shabby detail by scenic designer Carl Sprague. It's a place on the Talley property but away from the relatives among whom the liberal-minded Sally feels trapped. It is her independent spirit that Matt recognized and fell in love with, especially since it soared above the prejudices of a place which, though not actually in the South, fits Matt's description of the country which, New York City and isolated neighborhoods in Boston excepted, is "all the South."

Like the rest of the trilogy, Sally and Matt's " waltz" plays out on Independence Day. In this case it's July 4th 1944 -- a year after Matt and Sally met and fell in love while he came to Lebanon from Springfield on a vacation; three years into the war which holds Matt's bitterest memories and which has restored the Talleys' diminished fortune.

Sally and Matt's "one-two-three" lacks the sound and fury of the bombs that are falling on Berlin, but Matt's willingness to make a fool of himself so that love can transform his and Sally's inner despair to hope is just as crucial a battle. As promised in the exquisitely amusing opening monologue, the battle lasts exactly ninety-seven minutes. As hoped for by Matt, all goes well for him and Sally-- and for all in the audience who appreciates fine writing, acting and direction.

Book of Days
Burn This
Fifth of July
Hot L Baltimore
Rain Dance
Talley's Folly
By Lanford Wilson
Directed by Anders Cato
With Mark Nelson and Kate Jennings Grant
Scenic Design: Carl Sprague
Costume Design: Olivera Gajic
Lighting Designer Matthew E. Adelson
Sound Designer: Jason A. Tratta
Original Music: Scott Killian
Dialect Coach: David Alan Stern
The Berkshire Theatre Festival's Main Stage Route 7 Stockbridge 413-298-5576
July 29-August 9, 2003
Tickets $33 to $60.
Performances are Monday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM and Thursday and Saturdays at 2 PM.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on July 31st performance
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