No Folly In A Well-Told Tale

By John Quinn

At its heart, Lanford Wilson's "Talley's Folly" is an old-fashioned love story. Two lonely hearts sparring in a dilapidated boat house for a little over 90 minutes, in general, sums it up. So why did such an uncomplicated play earn Wilson the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama? As always in the dramatic arts, the tale is in the telling. As told by Puzzle Piece Theatre, it's a captivating tale indeed.

It's the evening of July 4, 1944. The place is the Talley family farm near Lebanon, Missouri. The setting provides the play its title. Everett "Uncle Whistler" Talley built many a "folly" around Lebanon, but none as odd as the gazebo-like, Victorian-style boat house on the river. It serves as a refuge for Matt Freidman, a 42-year-old Jewish accountant, who was smitten with the charms of spinster Sally Talley the previous summer. He's written her a letter a day ever since. He's had only one tepid reply, so he decides to woo her in person. The notion that a St Louis Jew is courting a Talley doesn't sit well with the family, but that doesn't explain Sally's cold behavior when she slips down to the river. Matt tells us in an opening monologue that what will ensue is a waltz; a romantic picture indeed, but the dance begins as more of a tango. Everybody knows it takes two to tango, and Sally is a reluctant partner. It seems both Matt and Sally are keeping secrets, but "Tally's Folly" affirms that "honesty is the best policy."

The old saw is true in art as well as in life: The success of this production lies in the fundamental integrity of the performances. Katie Galazka and Samer Ajluni deftly explore the ever-changing relationship between Sally and Matt, their acidic chemistry is just right. Though this romantic comedy has a bite - literally -- one can't help rooting for a happy ending.

"Talley's Folly" is being performed at The Box Theater in Mount Clemens, a no-nonsense "black box" venue. As a rule, conceptual designs are more fitting in this type of performance space. Puzzle Piece's artistic director D.B. Schroeder, a man of many hats, doesn't disappoint. As the show's director, he's not only painted us an engaging picture; he has designed a thoroughly original set to frame it. This Talley boat house is far more ramshackle that even the playwright might have envisioned, but it's so appropriate to the space. The materials are reclaimed architectural pieces and "found" items, including standard wooden shipping pallets employed in a stage-spanning deck and a suggestion of walls.

Ingenuity is a gift too often overlooked. It takes ingenuity to assemble the right script, the right artists and the right performance space in an art-adverse economic downturn. But when all the stars align, what wonderful stories are told! Puzzle Piece Theatre has the winning formula in "Talley's Folly."

'Talley's Folly'

Puzzle Piece Theatre at The Box Theater, 90 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 27. 1 hour, 37 minutes. $20. 313-303-8019.

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