When Matt meets Sally, sparks fly

September 28, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

At the beginning of Lanford Wilson's "Talley's Folly," Matt Friedman -- one-half of this two-character valentine -- tells the audience, "If everything goes well for me tonight, this will be a waltz."

But the drama that results is more of a tango than a waltz. And, at Everyman Theatre, director Timmy Ray James keeps the conflict between the sparring lovers crackling.

In a way, Stas Wronka's Matt Friedman and Jacqueline Underwood's Sally Talley are like a pair of magnetic dolls, with their magnetic poles in opposite directions. Every time they begin to get close, their opposing magnetic fields send them scurrying apart.

The play takes place on July 4, 1944 -- one year after Matt and Sally had a one-week romance. Matt, an accountant, hasn't seen Sally since, but he has written daily letters, which have gone unanswered. The one time he tried to visit her at the hospital where she works as a nurse's aide, she refused to see him.

On the surface, Matt and Sally have little in common -- and not just because Sally's closed-minded family is prejudiced against Matt's Eastern European Jewish background.

Besides their divergent attitudes -- for much of the play he's cheerful and she's fed up -- the obvious differences between them are manifest in their accents. Though she protests that her small Missouri hometown is in the Midwest, Underwood's Sally speaks with the molasses-laden tones of the rich Southern belle she once was. But even her appearance -- strikingly plain for this changeable actress -- suggests that those frivolous days are long gone.

Matt's language is more heavily accented -- an instance of type-casting since Wronka, an actor with a strong comic sensibility, is a Polish immigrant. Although his accent at times obscures Wilson's text, it also reinforces one of the rare compliments Sally gives Matt -- that she finds him exotic.

Refusing to be rebuffed, Matt has barged in on Sally to ask her to marry him. He is convinced that her avoidance of him constitutes fear -- not rejection.

And indeed, as the action unfolds in a game of psychological hide-and-seek, the similarities between these seemingly disparate characters become increasingly apparent. Both are bright and liberal, both are considered "different" by their family and peers, and, as we find out in the climactic moments of the play, both have undergone hardships so severe that they have attempted to shut themselves off from the world.

In other words, Matt and Sally are made for each other -- as Matt suspects, and as this bittersweet production makes indisputably clear.

"Talley's Folly," winner of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize, is part of Wilson's trilogy about the Talley family. The word "folly" refers to the gazebo-like boathouse where Matt and Sally engage in their romantic duel. Created by set designer Holly Beck, this evocatively weathered, decaying structure is the physical embodiment of the play's themes of individuality, eccentricity and the relentless passage of time.

As Sally explains, the boathouse was built by her uncle, a man "who did exactly what he wanted to do." Apparently the gingerbread-trimmed structure is permeated with his philosopy, because by the end of the evening, it has infected Sally, Matt and the audience as well.

'Talley's Folly'

Where: Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, matinees at 2: 30 p.m. Sundays; through Oct. 13

Tickets: $15

$ Call: (410) 752-2208

Pub Date: 9/28/96

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