From the post-holiday lull and frigid temperatures of January, Raleigh, NC audiences are invited into the languid Missouri summer of Burning Coal Theatre Company’s current production of Talley’s Folly, directed by John Gulley. This award-winning two-character play, written by Lanford Wilson (1937-2011), is a delectable pas de deux between two unlikely suitors.
The show begins with Matt Friedman, played by a bespectacled Jerome Davis in a dashing suit, who speaks to the audience directly. Through an engaging opening monologue, Matt lays out the scene with lush detail and amusing quips, winning the audience over in the same way that he plans to win over his intended.
Matt is here to propose, you see; and he’s going to do it within the next 97 minutes. Though he has written to this paramour of his every day since their first meeting, the woman he loves has only written him back once. It was not an encouraging reply. But Matt Friedman doesn’t give up so easily; and so he has arrived with little notice on her doorstep, determined to change her mind.
He waits for her in a boathouse that is in a rather romantic state of disrepair, nestled up against the bank of a river in the rural area of Lebanon, Missouri, in 1944. It belongs to the estate of Sally Talley (played by a forceful Emily Rieder), the oldest daughter of the second-richest family in town. She met Matt one year ago last summer, and she has been avoiding him ever since. In fact, his arrival has set her family in a tizzy, which doesn’t put her any further into the mood to be wooed.
If this sounds like an unlikely scenario, it is — in 1944, nice, rich Midwestern Protestant girls didn’t go around marrying Jewish accountants from the big bad city. Sally comes from a world of privilege and heritage, her destiny having been laid out for her; and Matt simply doesn’t fit the mold. That’s only the beginning of the obstacles between them; add in an 11-year age difference, a country rocked by two world wars, and deep personal enigmas surrounding both of their personal lives, and Matt has quite a Herculean feat to accomplish.
According to the opening monologue, the play is meant to unfold like a waltz, as Matt and Sally dance around each other, trying to figure out if their music is compatible. Under John Gulley’s direction, it’s more of a paso doble, with Sally charging with fume and bluster at Matt only to have him fall back into quips and other means of distraction until he can begin artfully waving his cape again.
Burning Coal’s founding artistic director Jerome Davis’ Matt has a sort of benign tenaciousness to him that at first doesn’t seem to be a match for Emily Rieder’s explosive defensiveness. However, like an ocean tide, Matt keeps coming in waves, sometimes gentle, sometimes crushing; and Sally’s high walls slowly-but-surely begin to wear down. As they tango through the tangle of their tormented pasts, they begin to find a simpatico that is truly moving by the time their 97 minutes is up.
The play is exquisitely written, well deserving of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that it won in 1980. The single setting allows the production team to focus on achieving just the right atmosphere, with great effect.
Joel Soren’s set beautifully evokes the mood. Elegant yet dilapidated, abandoned, and overgrown, it has the quixotic charm of a forgotten childhood fairy tale. It’s a fitting backdrop for two equally dichotomous characters, lost souls trying to find themselves in each other.
Matthew Adelson’s lighting captures the magic of twilight dipping into sunset, and Juan Isler’s sound direction composes a background soundtrack that weaves from chirping crickets to the band playing across the water. Burning Coal’s stage setup is excellent for this particular play, drawing the audience into the intellectual and emotional dance as it unfolds; and by the time that the band plays, everyone will have found a lovely cadence to take away with them.
Talley’s Folly runs through Sunday, Feb. 9th, in Murphey School Auditorium, and is an ideal offering for the Valentines season.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 24th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9702; and Jan. 21st Raleigh, NC WRAL.com interviews with actors Jerome Davis and Emily Rieder, conducted by Ken Smith: https://www.wral.com/burning-coal-theatre-presents-talley-s-folly/18900601/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 26th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2020/01/burning-coal-theatre-company-touchingly-performs-talleys-folly-by-lanford-wilson/.)
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents TALLEY’S FOLLY at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25, 2 p.m. Jan. 26, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2 p.m. Feb. 2, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6-8, and 2 p.m. Feb. 9 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $25 ($15 students, teachers, and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except “Pay-What-You-Can” Day on Sunday, Jan. 26th, $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), $15 Thursdays, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or https://burningcoal.secure.force.com/.
SHOW: https://burningcoal.org/talleys-folly-by-lanford-wilson/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1006853256353303/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.facebook.com/pg/burningcoaltheatrecompany/videos/.
STUDY GUIDE: https://burningcoal.org/wp-content/uploads/Talleys-Folly-Study-Guide.pdf.
2019-20 SEASON: https://burningcoal.org/2019-2020-season/.
PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.
NOTE 1:The 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26th, show is a “Pay-What-You-Can” Performance.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26th, performance.
NOTE 3: There will be post-show talkbacks on Sunday, Feb. 2nd, and Friday, Feb. 7th. Click here and scroll down for details.
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She has studied acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA; and she now trains locally with Lynda Clark (stage), Daryl Ray Carlisle (film/commercial), and Rebekah Holland (voice). Simmons has performed at Raleigh Little Theatre in Raleigh, Forest Moon Theater in Wake Forest, Stageworks Theatre in Holly Springs, and many others. She is represented by Talent One Agency in Raleigh. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.