Sunday, August 2, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre Box Of Floral Park's production of Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly at United Methodist Church Of Floral Park by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Lanford Wilson's “Talley's Folly" at Theatre Box Of Floral Park was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Talley's Folly
A Play by Lanford Wilson
Starring Tony & Geraldine DiBari
Directed by Brian J. Payne
Theatre Box Of Floral Park
United Methodist Church Of Floral Park
35 Verbena Avenue
Floral Park, New York 11001
Reviewed 7/31/15 at 8:00 p.m.

Talley's Folly is a 1979 play by American playwright Lanford Wilson. It is the second play in his cycle, The Talley Trilogy between his plays Talley & Son, and Fifth of July. It was first performed by the Circle Repertory Company on May 1, 1979, with Judd Hirsch as Matt Friedman, and Trish Hawkins as Sally Talley. The production moved to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles before returning to New York for its Broadway opening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on February 20, 1980. Talley's Folly won a Drama Critics' Circle Award and a Tony Nomination for Best Play in 1980. That same year, Lanford Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his work on this play. 

Talley's Folly is set in an old, run-down, wooden-lattice Victorian Boathouse (that looks like a gazebo) near rural Lebanon, Missouri on July 4, 1944. One year prior, Matt Friedman, a forty-two-year-old, Jewish accountant from St. Louis, spent seven days in Lebanon on vacation where he met Sally Talley, a single, thirty-one-year-old Gentile. You could say that both these characters' lives are in the same dilapidated shape as the boathouse. Sally, a Nurse's aide in a local hospital wants to move out of her family home. She is spirited, pro-union and even got fired from teaching Sunday School. The rise of labour unions was affecting the families of the children in her class and she felt obligated to "educate them" by introducing them to Veblen's The Theory Of The Middle Class. Her unorthodox methods earned her the consternation of the Methodist Church elders, as well as her own family members, who owned 25% of the garment factory where the labour issue was being debated. Matt Friedman, who never once asked a woman to marry him, and was never asked either, is a loner who has had a hard life and who has worn the same tie every day for the past five years. Since the week they spent together a year ago, Matt is smitten and has written Sally mundane, daily letters detailing every aspect of his boring life and has occasionally spoken with her Aunt Charlotte. Sally, herself, has given him no encouragement. She wrote him one letter and when he came out one day to visit her at the hospital, she had hospital staff tell him she was not there. Now, again uninvited, he has returned to Lebanon for one night so that they can, once and for all, decide whether they have feelings for one another. If in the affirmative, Matt intends to ask Sally to marry him.

The name of the play Talley's Folly, derives from the various "follies" her Uncle Edward built around town. He was a toy-maker and when, in 1870, he wanted to build a gazebo, his father told him that gazebos were a "frivolity" so, instead, he build a Victorian boathouse on the Talley Farm that looked like a gazebo (after all, that's what he wanted to build in the first place). He also constructed another gazebo in the town park that was coloured maroon, pink and gold. Despite objections, he build it and told the city elders if they didn't like it, they could tear it down. The gazebo remains and the town now uses it for High School Band Concerts. Sally considers her uncle the healthiest member of her family for his courage.

Matt Friedman tells Sally if she is truly not interested in him, he can take "no" for an answer but he cannot take "evasion." As he explains, "you can chase me away or put on a new dress, but you can't put on a new dress to chase me away." Matt jokes, cajoles, goofs around on ice skates, does a Humphrey Bogart impression and reminds Sally of the good times they had together. Faced with her reluctance to rekindle the relationship, he runs down the possible reasons Sally might be hesitant such as his religion, his age or the possibility he might be a German spy, but none of these seems to be why she is pushing him away. Aunt Charlotte told Matt that Sally has a secret that only she can tell him. There is a hint Sally allowed the nebbish Matt to get a taste of forbidden fruit when they spent seven days together a year ago. That would explain Matt's obsession with her and his completely unrealistic expectations for their relationship. Given Matt's physical restraint of Sally when she tried to scream and get away from him, I suspect "a violent incident" could have occurred if Sally continued to toy with his emotions and play games. 

Eventually, Matt decides to open up. He tells her his father was a Prussian Jew, who eventually became an engineer. His mother was a Ukrainian, who falsely claimed to be Sephardic. He was born in Kaunas, Lithuania. In 1911, his father was overheard in a French cafe discussing some work related to nitrogen (a reference to the Haber Process developed in 1909 by Jewish-German chemist, Fritz Haber, to extract nitrogen from the air, which made the manufacture of gunpowder and fertilizer cheaper), so the French detained his family when they were trying to cross the border and tortured his father and older sister, who went into a coma (and later died). When finally allowed to leave, they went to German authorities, who also tortured his father, and when his father and mother tried to escape to Denmark, they were both killed. An uncle brought Matt to America but he professes that "no allegiances can claim him anymore" and that he "doesn't believe in ism's because if you start to defend them, soon you start to treat them as if they are real." As a result, Matt describes himself as "a little crazy" and he has vowed never "to bring another child into a world filled with so much pain." Sally eventually confesses that she had tuberculosis, a fever, and a pelvic infection, that left her barren and unable to bear children." Her father looks at her as if she is "a broken swing." Given the irony of the situation, Sally admits she truly likes Matt, and she accepts his marriage proposal, leaving with him that night for St. Louis, Missouri. They vow to return to the boathouse every year so they don't ever forget the place where they fell in love.

Talley's Folly is performed as a two-person 97-minute one act play with no intermission. In this production, Toni Di Bari was Matt Friedman, and his wife, Geraldine DiBari played Sally Talley. They exhibited good rapport with each other and did a fine job in their respective roles. Brian J. Payne expertly directed the play. If you haven't seen Talley's Folly, here is your opportunity to catch it. It will be playing at Theatre Box Of Floral Park through August 8, 2015. Tickets can be reserved at http://www.theatrebox.org/ (Adult tickets: $15.00; Senior tickets: $10.00; Attendees 18 and under: $5.00). Refreshments including soda, water, cookies and cake are $1.00 each. I cannot promise you will like the characters in this play but given the inexpensive price and the high-quality performances, I can guarantee you will get more than your money's worth in entertainment value!

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