Sunday, May 06, 2001

Beautiful 'Talley's Folly' a little too reverential

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lately I've been wondering what Pulitzer Prize committees could be thinking in their play awards, settling for good rather than great work.

        There's no questioning their choice back in 1980, when the Pulitzer went to a lovingly crafted valentine of a romance. It managed to touch on prejudice and persecution, emotional fear and raw need — all by the light of the silvery moon.

        Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly is getting a revival at Playhouse in the Park. Not just any old return to a classic (albeit a contemporary one), this Folly is largely peopled by the creative team behind the original Broadway production.

        Some of them, most significantly director Marshall Mason, have been collaborators on productions of Mr. Wilson's work for more than 35 years.

        Maybe that's why the production — which is perfection in its individual parts — as a whole feels reverential rather than urgently alive. It's beautiful to look at and beautifully acted, so I can't figure out why it feels like it needs oxygen, or to be released from a glass casing, but it does.

        Folly is better than any play that will be in the running for this year's Tony Awards (nominations will be announced Monday). It's a pleasure to revisit it.

        Folly is as simple and complex and fragile and tough as love. It's without intermission and told in real time: July 4, 1944, early evening in an old, uncared-for but dear Victorian boathouse on the Talley property in Lebanon, Mo.

        Jewish accountant and fortysomething bachelor from St. Louis Matt Friedman (Geoffrey Cantor) has come to make one last plea for happiness to Sally Talley (Kelly McAndrew), the pretty blond daughter of a rich, self-satisfied family. (Anti-Semitism is just one of their prejudices.)

        At 31 and single in 1944, Sally is a spinster with the kind of politics that no doubt makes her family want to lock her in the attic.

        Instead, she escapes most nights to the rundown boathouse, a place, as Matt tells the audience early on, of willows, vines, moonlight, breezes, crickets, a band playing across the water. It's a fabulous setting designed by John Lee Beatty (who probably has a set-design Tony nomination coming Monday for Proof).

        It's lighting designer Dennis Parichy who sends the moon slowly rising behind the trees to reflect on the water and the Victorian lattice work. Sound designer Chuck London provides the night sounds, from dogs barking to tinny band music.

        Matt and Sally both have their secrets, which they protect in very different ways. His shield is humor; hers is an invisible wall. Folly is a celebration of vulnerability, tenacity and the courage it takes to expose ourselves emotionally.

        Funny, smart and charming Matt tells stories and does bad impersonations. Sally resists. He prods. She yells.

        Ms. McAndrew beautifully captures Sally's sensible facade and yearning heart. Mr. Cantor has all the necessary charm for Matt, although a little more warmth wouldn't be amiss.

        They are as well-matched as Matt and Sally, and that's saying a lot.

        There are wonderful aspects to this Folly, but I miss having it catch my heart.

       Talley's Folly, through June 1, Playhouse in the Park Marx Theatre. 421-3888.


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