ROCKPORT – A Pulitzer Prize-winning classic is being realized on the stage in Rockport.
The Everyman Repertory Theatre is presenting their production of Lanford Wilson’s “Talley’s Folly” at the Rockport Opera House. The show – directed by David Troup – runs through April 23.
This story of unlikely love debated, disputed and dissuaded takes place in rural Missouri on July 4, 1943. A star-crossed pair comes together in the creaking shadows of a dilapidated boathouse as the future possibilities of a past affair are discussed with passion, heart and humor. The play – which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1980 – is the second in Wilson’s cycle “The Talley Trilogy,” landing between his plays “Talley & Son” and “Fifth of July.” Comedy, drama, romance – there are plenty of descriptors that could apply to this play.
And there’s another that can be applied to this particular production: outstanding.
Matt Friedman (Ryan Jackson), a St. Louis accountant, and Sally Talley (River Lombardi), a nurse’s aide, met last summer when Matt came to the small town of Lebanon on vacation. They spent a whirlwind week together; in the months since, Matt has written almost daily – this despite Sally’s minimal response aimed only at getting him to stop.
Matt has returned to Lebanon in an effort to see Sally again and rekindle the spark that once flew between them. After being run off from the home of Sally’s parents, he takes up refuge in the rundown boathouse that served as the central spot of their previous rendezvous. It’s not long before Sally – who knows immediately where Matt will be – shows up there as well.
What follows is an emotional tug-of-war. Matt’s easygoing nature combines with his unwavering infatuation as he steadily, unrelentingly pleads his romantic case to Sally. For her part, Sally rebuffs Matt’s wooing, claiming to be perfectly content with her life as it is. But as their conversation unspools – in a real-time, intermissionless 97 minutes on this Fourth of July in the midst of World War II – it becomes clear that both of these people bear baggage, damages inflicted upon them in their respective pasts that have clear and significant impact on the people they have become and the relationships they hope to build.
“Talley’s Folly” is an undeniably ambitious undertaking. It’s the sort of play that makes massive demands across the board – on its director, its designers and perhaps most notably its cast. But Everyman Rep has never shied away from ambition; the company’s history is packed with interesting, unconventional choices. The intimate power of Wilson’s words fit right in.
A two-hander like this makes some pretty incredible demands of its cast. The pair of actors at the center of this production prove capable of not only meeting, but in many ways exceeding those demands.
Jackson is a bundle of energetic charm as Matt Friedman. From the impeccable timing and comedic instinct displayed during his opening, fourth wall-breaking monologue to the quiet determination of his pursuit to the deeply wounded pathos of his dive into an unfortunate past, Jackson manages a note-perfect performance throughout. All the pieces are there – the well-pitched dialect, the smooth physicality, the soulful silences and easy smiles.
Lombardi must walk a fine line with Sally, keeping her suitor at arm’s length without ever fully pushing him away. The emotional tightwire act she displays is simply masterful, capturing the conflicted turmoil of a woman with a past full of painful regrets. Yet we never lose sight of the charm and strength that is central to Sally’s character. Lombardi allows us just enough of a glimpse at the soft heart beneath the sharp edges.
The two of them together have a remarkable chemistry, their every interaction a delicate dance in which the lead is constantly shifting. The relationship between Matt and Sally is in flux, but it feels unfailingly genuine throughout. No matter how their dynamic changes, it remains honest and heartfelt. Both give exceptional performances.
Director David Troup had his work cut out for him. We’re talking about a story that unfolds in real time. There are only two actors and no scene changes. And yet, rather than struggle with those limitations, Troup thrives. The staging of the show creates a constant sense of smooth motion, yet nary a movement is wasted. There’s a sense of crispness in the blocking; the clean lines of the narrative are built on a foundation of characterization. He clearly understands and embraces the intimacy of the piece.
The production values shine as well. Scenic designer John Bielenberg has created a hauntingly cramped space for this relationship to inhabit. The boathouse is shadowy and elaborately rundown, an ideally broken locale for a meeting between two people with wounds of their own. Tom Sadowski’s lighting design serves to accentuate the shadowy nature of the boathouse while also finding ways to evoke the nearby water. The sound design has some shining moments as well – the playing of a far-off band, the plaintive creak of a single cricket – and the costume design is sharp and simple.
Everyman Repertory Theatre has created something special in “Talley’s Folly.” This story of love lost and – hopefully – regained is one that will captivate any lover of the stage. It is a truly powerful piece, superb on every level. Take advantage of the opportunity to experience this exemplary work.
Seriously. Just go. You’ll be glad that you did.