The curtain-less stage, set for Talley’s Folly (by Jeff Cowie) is impossible to ignore. The southern weathered boathouse littered with rusted and discarded objects begs for the arrival of Miss Havisham. The small apron of the Laura Pel’s stage is festooned in large cartoon-like flowers, setting the stage if you will for this realistic play that knows it’s a play.
Lanford Wilson’s 1979 Pulitzer Prize play begins with eliminating the fourth wall. Matt Friedman (Danny Burstein) walks through the house and onto the stage and announces how long the play will be and why he’s there. He repeats his opening speech (at a higher speed) for latecomers. For audience members who cling affectionately to the fourth wall, this is somewhat terrifying. But before we have time to rethink our choices, a halting and delicate story unfolds and we are immersed, enthralled and utterly smitten. We meet Sally Talley (Sarah Paulson) whom Matt has traveled to woo. Theirs is not an easy courtship. In fact at times it would seem that whatever courtship there is only exists in Matt’s mind. Sally is a lovely blonde woman from a wealthy family that is less than thrilled with the existence of the obviously Jewish and vaguely European Matt. That the play takes place during World War II is interesting but not all that relevant. The family’s attitude is timeless as is the story of Matt and Sally. To outline what occurs between them in the course of 90 minutes would deny potential audiences the real pleasure of this play.
Mr. Burstein who if truth be told, owns any role he plays, is Matt Friedman. True the role will always conjure its creation by Judd Hirsch’s (in 1979), but Mr. Burstein is not in anyone’s shadow. He is larger than his physical self yet not in anyway overblown. He plumbs the humor while swallowing the pain. Matt Friedman could easily become pitiable, but Burstein never allows that to occur. Ms. Paulson could easily become set dressing in his presence but under Michael Wilson’s direction they shine equally upon the stage. While we at times we become frustrated by Sally, we never once doubt her. The actors capture the realism and the poetry of Matt and Sally; we ache for them and we cheer for them.
The Roundabout Theatre’s Talley’s Folly opens on March 5th