If you're looking for heart-warming fare this holiday season, then look no further than The New Jewish Theatre's splendid production of playwright Lanford Wilson's work, Talley's Folly. This is a romantic and touching play that features two wonderful performances and masterly direction. It's a perfect contrast to some of the more edgy productions currently playing in town, and it's ideal fit for couples looking for something that's engaging, entertaining, and brimming with hope. For me, this is a great example of must-see theatre.
Set during 1944 in Lebanon, MO, this tells the story of one night that becomes the turning point in two people's lives. Matt Friedman has come to visit Sally Talley with the goal of asking her for her hand in marriage. A year ago they spent a memorable week together, and ever since then he's been smitten. He thinks she cares for him as well, but Sally puts up a hard front that belies her true feelings. Matt and Sally essentially perform a courtship dance on an old boathouse on the Talley property, and, as it progresses, you really root for them to come together as a couple. Both are damaged and vulnerable due to events that have transpired in their lives, and there are secrets that are revealed over the course of the evening that will serve to actually bring them closer to one another, though both are reluctant to delve too deeply below the surface at first. When they finally do, it makes for a moving and sweetly romantic experience that's not to be missed.
Shaun Sheley is Matt Friedman, a Jewish man who is a whiz with numbers, prospering in St. Louis with a business that brings individuals and corporations to him for tax advice and information. But, something is missing in his life. He doesn't feel complete. That's where Meghan Maguire as the sweetly named, Sally Talley, comes in. She's a willful and strong headed woman with her own, clear views on life, and she's not sure that Matt is the answer to her dreams of leaving her less progressive family behind. Matt provides the opportunity for change, but Sally has resigned herself to a loveless life. It's up to him to show her how their lives could be better in the end if they'd join together. Sheley and Maguire are each superb in their roles, fully vested and ideally cast.
Deanna Jent's direction is terrific, finding the perfect tone for this sweetly romantic glimpse into these two characters lives. Jason Coale's scenic design is also top notch, conjuring up a dilapidated boathouse with considerable skill. It's moodily lit by Nathan Schroeder, and Robin Weatherall's sound design fills in the atmospheric blanks nicely. Michele Friedman Siler's costumes are proper character fits that subtly evoke the era.
The holiday season is a great time to see a play that reaffirms the power of love to overcome even the most insurmountable odds to make a genuine connection with another person. I highly recommend The New Jewish Theatre's production of Talley's Folly, and it continues through December 23, 2012.