Talley’s Folly, the boathouse, was built in1870. One of those bizarre inventions of the Victorian mind, it was filigreed and latticed and carved like Baroque froth. Its style captured the sense of security, the complacency of its time.
But now, in Lanford Wilson’s “Talley’s Folly,” it’s the 4th of July, 1944, and things are changing. Indeed, in Mark Klopfenstein’s evocative scenic design at the Grove Theatre Center, the 74-year-old boathouse itself not only is in disrepair, falling apart with age, but is slowly listing, sinking into the river. Sinking and askew, just like all those old values were after two massive world wars, the Jazz Age and the Great Depression.
It’s too late for most of the Talleys to change, to build something new on the disaster the world had made of itself. But their dysfunction has created someone who could--Sally Talley, and the playwright puts her face-to-face with Matt Friedman, a Jewish survivor of the dysfunction of the Nazi mind. Bound to collide, they become Wilson’s icons for the indomitable human will to survive.
Probably the most accomplished of Wilson’s “Talley Trilogy,” “Folly” is deceptively simple but so tightly written and yet so loosely shaded that directors and actors can have a field day filling in the blanks and balancing the volatile personalities of its two protagonists.
In casting Alan Feinstein as Matt and Patricia Boyette as Sally, director Kevin Cochran has given his production a firm base. This is not a lighthearted pair of star-crossed and mismatched lovers, as they sometimes are played. Although Wilson’s humor, and the sense of humor that first attracted Matt and Sally to each other, are ripe in these performances, Feinstein and Boyette also bring an urgency and a dark underside to their images that echo the pain that made them what they are and made them for each other.
When Sally appears as a widow three decades later in “The Fifth of July,” another play in the trilogy, her attitudes and personality show the positive results of her union with Matt. Boyette shows us the intimations of that older, wiser woman, just waiting for a man like Matt to release the real her beneath the short temper and insecurity.
Feinstein’s Matt is similarly complex, hiding a painful childhood and charming yet defensive as he challenges the open anti-Semitism he finds in his new country. He and Sally are unusual people and make an unusual couple, and in this, the beginning of their relationship, Friedman and Boyette carve out solid portraits based on understanding, insight and their own senses of fun.
Cochran, who also co-produced, says he chose this as the company’s inaugural show in the outdoor Festival Amphitheatre to prove that the space can be used effectively for small productions. Theatrical size has nothing to do with physical measurements. It has to do with ideas and performance, and this “Folly” is quite large enough to do the job.
* “Talley’s Folly,” Festival Amphitheatre, Grove Theatre Center, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 20. $18.50-$24.50. (714) 741-9550. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Alan Feinstein: Matt Friedman
Patricia Boyette: Sally Talley
A Grove Theatre Center production of a play by Lanford Wilson, produced by Kevin Cochran and Charles Johanson, directed by Kevin Cochran. Scenic design: Mark Klopfenstein. Lighting design: David Darwin. Costume design: Leonard Ogden. Stage manager: Eric Johanson.