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Review: Portland Stage's TALLEY'S FOLLY Offers a Dose of Hope

Portland Stage's TALLEY'S FOLLY Offers a Dose of Hope

Review: Portland Stage's TALLEY'S FOLLY Offers a Dose of Hope

In joining a small group of Equity theatres given permission to produce live, Portland Stage already has achieved an artistic milestone during the pandemic. But with their well-crafted, emotionally satisfying production of Lanford Wilson's TALLEY'S FOLLY, they bring a dose of hope to theatre-starved audiences - not only in practical terms but in artistic ones as well.

The 1980 Pulitzer-prize-winning romantic comedy offers a message of caring amid loneliness and adversity. Wilson's ninety-minute play examines the problematic relationship between Sally Talley and her erstwhile beau, Matt Friedman, as Friedman makes the trip back to Lebanon, Missouri, to try to rekindle the spark the two experienced the previous summer. His journey leads him to overcome Sally's resistance and to share her long-kept secret, just as he opens himself up entirely to her. Set against a background of World War II, the New Deal, rising unionism, issues of prejudice against immigrants and anti-Semitism, Wilson's quirky pair are blessed with dialogue that rings with authenticity and a deft sense of self-deprecating humor. If the character and plot exposition of opening twenty minutes is a bit lengthy by current standards, the rest of the script builds with masterful insight and quiet suspense to the final revelation and dénouement.

Sally Wood directs with her customary excellent sense of pace and her ear finely tuned to the playwright's alternating notes of nostalgia and angst. She also offers a few small doses of the physical comedy at which she is so adept - notably in the skating scene. Anita Stewart's unit set conjures up the rural boathouse with idyllic charm. The water glistens and the reeds sway in the moonlight; the neutral palette and rustic set dressing all create a very convincing ambiance. Christopher Akerlind's lovely lighting design frames the action as a memory play from the dark tones of the prologue to the naturalistic evocation of late afternoon, twilight, and darkness of the play itself. Seth Asa Sengel provides the soundscape suggesting the rural nightfall, and the Kathleen Brown's costumes are attractively serviceable. Myles C. Hatch anchors the action as Stage Manager.

Kathy McCafferty is a winsome Sally Talley, at first unwillingly harsh, then gradually melting and letting her defenses down as she unburdens herself of her past unhappiness. Dave Mason captures all the awkwardness of Matt Friedman, combined with an endearing sense of irony and determination. The pair - a married couple in real life - ably convey the prickliness and passion of this twosome.

Portland Stage is to be congratulated not only for finding a way - despite many challenges - to create LIVE theatre, but also for doing it without diminishing in any way its artistic standards. While there have been countless hurdles to overcome to Raise the Curtain on this production, once the lights dim and the actors appear, only the magic remains.

Photos courtesy of Portland Stage, Mical Hutson, photographer

TALLEY's FOLLY runs at Portland Stage, 25A Forest Ave., Portland, ME until November 15 on stage and continues in a streaming option Nov.9-22. 207-774-0465

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