Intricacies of love played out in 'Talley's Folly'

By Tom Weber

PLAINVIEW -- Lovers of language are sure to fall in love with the Jon Hassler Theater's production of "Talley's Folly," which opened last weekend.

Lanford Wilson's play about two people groping toward each other in a small Missouri town during World War II, revels in a rushing torrent of brilliant alliteration and allusion.

Yet the play, which is directed by Sally Childs and opens the 2002 season at the Hassler, would be only so much verbiage without characters to bring the words to life. Wilson's couple are Matt Friedman, a Jewish accountant from St. Louis, and Sally Talley, an almost-spinster from a wealthy family in Lebanon, Mo.


Friedman, after a year of courtship and hardship, has decided to come to Lebanon for one last try at something everyone in Sally's family -- including her, it sometimes seems -- is dead set against: a marriage.

That's the setup. You've already heard about the language, but the dozens of intricacies contained in this play are woven together like the lattice-work siding on the old boat house where Matt and Sally have their rendezvous: Jews and gentiles are not to marry in this place and time; a daughter of the richest family in town should not be pro-union and anti-religion; there has to be something drastically wrong with a 41-year-old guy and 35-year-old woman who haven't found anybody else by now, and that Jew must be a socialist if he's not in the army.

At the opening, Rob Frankel, as Matt, cautions us several times that the story is a waltz. There is a patience implied in that metaphor, and Matt certainly possesses much of it to keep up his pursuit of Sally.

But at least he's sure of what he wants. Sally, played by Noalen Stampe, has to keep talking herself in and out of a vision of her future as Mrs. Matt Friedman.

Stampe is especially good here, as we watch her ratchet up her anxiety, only to ease the pressure with a small laugh or concession that really says, "I could be convinced yet."

Frankel for the most part avoids the caricature that would be so natural and easy with his character. Frankel shines best in Matt's tale of how he came to this country; a story of shame and pride -- and a university-level course in modern European history.

The ultimate reason for Sally's reluctance is telegraphed too soon by her reaction to Matt's stated intention not to become a father. But how and when her secret will be revealed only adds to the anticipation awaiting us at the end of this beautiful production.

"Talley's Folly" runs Thursdays through Sundays through April 28 at the Jon Hassler Theater in Plainvew. For showtimes, ticket information and reservations, call (507) 534-2900.

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