BWW Reviews: Love Arises with TAP's Transcendent TALLEY'S FOLLY
There's magic in the summer air at Third Avenue Playhouse. Sturgeon Bay's Stage Door Theater Company opened their new season with Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly. In this 1980 Pulitzer Prize winning play set in Lebanon, Missouri, with some resemblance to a Door County July, an age worn folly, a Victorian boathouse, conjures a moonlight rendezvous for two heartbroken cynics, Sally and Matt.
Wilson's play relives a 1944 night before the end of World War II on the Fourth of July. When the setting remembers an America economically recovering through their war efforts from the Great Depression of the 1930's. Sally Talley's family represents one of the wealthiest families in Lebanon, while Matt Friedman works as a successful accountant in Saint Louis, his heritage being a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant who somewhat disdains the new prosperity gained from the spoils of war. The pair met one year ago, had a romantic night in the boathouse, and while Matt wrote Sally weekly after that night, Sally responded with one reply, because of her fears of falling in love again.
For Wilson, the 90 minute, no intermission performance mirrors what happens in exactly the same time frame for the audience. Matt decides he has exactly 97 minutes to woo Sally, overcoming her reticence, delving into their pasts and then asking her to marry him. Sally and Matt appear light years apart, in their divergent backgrounds and on the surface, in their feelings regarding love and marriage. In this production, TAP's stage designed by James Valcq presents a forlorn, simple silver grey boat house, remnants from Sally's uncle who built the frivolous folly Sally finds her solace in. She's over 30, unmarried, and an embarrassment to her family, a woman who returns to the boathouse to escape her life.
Robert Boles adroitly directs a vivacious Amy Ensign, feisty and radiant, who plays the complex role of Sally Talley. Ensign needs to endear her character to the audience, to master the delicate dance of emotions between these two love lost personas where the ending will be believable. As her partner, Drew Brhel recreates the role of Matt, a staunch bachelor for 42 years, where the actor's comic adeptness shines through Matt's witticisms and his heartfelt, if bumbling, desire to win Sally. As the performance progresses, Brhel releases Matt's fire in his persistence to crack open Sally's brittle facade. After a year apart, Mat realizes something has been missing in his life, and Brhel displays Matt's frustration when they speak of "Humpty Dumpty" syndrome.
Humpty Dumpty syndrome compares people to eggs. People who keep to themselves, covered in hard shells, unable to let themselves be broken open, vulnerable to another person. However, eggs need to be cracked open to as Matt says, "to get something cookin." As do people's souls to revive what seems to be an unlikely folly, perhaps an event or person, into a second fabulous life. By the end of the performance, moonlight and starlight illuminate the stage for Sally and Matt, and maybe anyone who might be disappointed by life in the audience, too.
After seeing this play numerous times, Wilson's lilting dialogue between these two characters continually evokes numerous emotions for the audience. As Matt says, the rhythmic waltz of words between the two seemingly fools for love define their conversations. A difficult word dance depicting how each person thinks themselves undeserving of falling in love again and finding happiness late in life. Another chance to recover from the dilapidated ruins of years gone awry by revealing their hurtful pasts and then to finally discover their lives match perfectly.
A little mist floats to the eyes for the final scenes, when Sally and Matt realize their despair from the past can dissipate. Instead of recalling Humpty Dumpty who was unable to be put back together by all the King's men, the Phoenix syndrome could be incredible. Then anyone might rise up from their personal ruins in the tradition of mythological golden Phoenix. A royal bird born from a cracked open egg, that even when destroyed will fly from his ashes to reappear in a blaze of glory, similar to those Fourth of July fireworks Sally and Matt watch at the end of the play.
TAP's transcendent production of Talley's Folly reminds the audience love can reappear after any tragedy. Lives might be reborn into love by surprise, in the most unlikeliest of places or between the most unusual persons. This may happen at any time to restore faith and hope, qualities which overcome heartfelt disappointments when people crack open their shells and let their regal selves rise again into magical places.
Stage Door Theatre Company at Sturgeon Bay's Third Avenue Playhouse at 239 North Third Avenue presents Talley's Folly through July 25. For information or tickets, please call 920.743.1760 or www.thirdavenueplayhouse.com