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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Meaningful Exchanges

Theater Review

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 The Chamber Theatre brings its usual finesse and careful adherence to the spirit of the text in their thoughtful new production of Talley’s Folly, Lanford Wilson’s 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning play and recipient of the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award .The play is the second in Wilson’s “Talley Trilogy,” all successfully produced. With such distinguished credentials, audiences may feel an uneasy sense of disappointment at the dialogue’s initial lack of focus, a requirement so important in a two-character play.

 While miscommunication is not a new theme in contemporary drama, Talley’s Folly takes too much time zeroing in on what these characters are all about. It takes a while before what appear to be pointless recollections between these two begin to coalesce into meaningful exchanges. We are informed that Sally Talley, a Midwestern “golden girl” returns to her old homestead in Lebanon, Mo. to find her old suitor—witty and outspoken Jewish accountant Matt Friedman, waiting to renew something that never worked well to begin with. There seems to be little chemistry between them and it is not easy to believe that they were once an item, having so little in common.

 As played by Laura Gray, Talley—clearly a product of the Ozarks—registers peevish impatience at Friedman’s initial attempts at familiarity. Jonathan West as Matt carries the day with his assured urbane charm. While both performers are excellent individually, the opening sequences give them few chances to jell. They are like apples and oranges—which is the main theme of the play—or as Matt states, two lonely people with shells as fragile as eggs afraid to be cracked on contact. He accuses her of being an old maid in the making. She forces him to face his family issues.  This is 1944 and his people, he tells us, have left Nazi Europe. He impels her to confront the real reason for her family’s rejection, which leads to the play’s final climactic episode. These are imperfect people and the play eventually addresses Talley’s jealously guarded, painful experiences that finally bring them together.
 Ultimately, Talley’s Folly wins over the audience .The appeal lies in a basic conviction which always ring true—that people are often drawn together by their unique, often painful, critical experiences, and that the basic value of that experience overshadows any other differences between   dissimilar personalities. So artistic integrity carries the day, and the play becomes a satisfying crowd-pleaser after all.

Runs through May 4.

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