Lanford Wilson’s 1979 play Talley’s Folly is a little different. A charming one-act play, without intermission or set changes, it’s the second of The Talley Trilogy and centers on two unlikely lovers meeting for one night in 1944 on the Fourth of July. Matt Friedman (Todd Seage), a forty-something Jewish accountant, has arrived at the Talley farm in the hopes of courting Sally Talley (Anastasia Zavaro), a fiery, independent-minded woman of conservative Protestant upbringing 11 years his junior. After an altercation with Sally’s family, Matt waits for her on a dilapidated boat house near her farm. He sets the scene, and states his hopes that the night “will be a waltz.” When Sally storms on in a rage, it’s clear he’s in for a rough go of it.
Sally is tough, mysterious. She’d rather talk about economics than emotions. Alternately evasive and demanding, she curses her family’s hard-headed, backward ways and in the same breath fervently defends her hometown. Though she threatens many times to leave and demands that he leave as well, she never quite musters the wherewithal to walk away, drawn imperceptibly, inexorably into the clumsy waltz. Matt, awkwardly and charmingly, employs every tactic at his disposal to both incense and soothe her by turns, endeavoring desperately to overcome her reservations.
It’s a simple story in many ways: boy meets girl, falls in love, moves to propose and encounters obstacles along the way; however, its simplicity is also deceiving. The heart and ardor apparent in both of them is at odds, not necessarily because of outlying circumstances, though circumstances have considerably shaped the difficulties they face. Miscommunication, ambiguous language, a desperate need to protect the self and ultimately fear, fear of intimacy and rejection, frame their entire conversation.
In turn it is both humorous and tender as two unconventional lovers slowly strip away layers of armor to expose the raw nerve of vulnerability beneath. It’s a fantastic story, even for one who tends to groan at the thought of the romantic. My favorite part of this story is how well-matched the two characters are and how elegantly they are portrayed by their respective actors. Both Seage and Zavaro bring wonderful depth, dimension, and complexity to what is in many ways a standard valentine. There is no unseemly power play too often seen in portrayals of romance. Just two mature and autonomous, but deeply damaged individuals finally falling into step.
Talley’s Folly runs through Aug. 10. Remaining performance times are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 8–9, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10. The Center for the Arts is located at 111 W. College St. For tickets and more information, click here.