In a rare and long overdue revival, Lanford Wilson's lyrical duet for lovers, Talley's Folly has nestled on the stage of Princeton's McCarter Theater. Nearly thirty years old, the Pulitzer Prize winner remains a gently humorous and ardently romantic two-hander. The success of this comfortable revival can be credited to director Marshall W. Mason who staged the original production in 1979 for Manhattan's Circle Repertory Company, and the tandem performances of Richard Schiff and Margot White.
Schiff plays the role of Matt Friedman, a wiry forty-two year old Jewish accountant from St. Louis who rather clumsily courts the restlessly repressed Sally Talley, a thirty-one year old WASP spinster, acted with wispy radiance by White.
The play is the second piece in a trilogy that includes The Fifth of July and Talley and Son, the latter being a rewrite of A Tale Told. Set on a farm in Lebanon, Missouri in 1944, the play manages in its rushing ninety-seven minutes of playing time to reveal a great deal about the seemingly mis-matched romantics. Wilson's stunningly constructed tale reveals Matt's persistent courtship, his childhood flight from Nazi oppression and a vaudevillian's sense of hokum.
White offers a keenly structured portrait of the Methodist nurse's aid who is resigned to becoming "an eccentric old maid." She displays both a Midwestern feisty stubbornness and an alluring measure of front porch charm. Schiff reveals an appealing comic edge as a storyteller with a clownish sense of humor and the harbored desperation of infatuation.
Mason's nuanced and keenly expressive staging respects the waltzing flavor of the playwrights intent.John Lee Beatty, who designed the original set for Circle Rep, has recreated the decaying and decorative Victorian boathouse with its aging louvers, lattice trim, assorted gee-gaws, and a couple of rotting rowboats. Dogs bark in the distance, the cicadas chirp incessantly, and the moonlight spills generously in support of the hesitant lovers. A sensitive lighting design appropriately sets the mood the folly of the heart.