Talley’s Folly begins with a prologue in which Matthew Friedman (Jerome Davis) tells the audience, (amongst other things) that the play will run for 97 minutes. He also amusingly explains that, regarding the staging, we should all be aware we are sitting in a river! He has a folksy, relatable way of talking and relates the story of how he met Sally Talley (Kelly Pekar) a year ago, drove her home from a dance, and they found themselves down at the folly (a boathouse) by this river.
We hear Sally approaching and calling out to Matt. He carefully explains that this is a waltz. The house lights dim and the play begins. Matt has written to Sally every day for a year, and Sally has replied just once. He has now taken time off to visit and to see just what the status of their relationship is – if they even have one. There is a stark contrast between Matt and Sally and both performers play it well. Matt has put himself out there, talking honestly and openly to her, but Sally is closed and hiding behind walls (or shells as the play calls them). The strength of Lanford Wilson’s script and both Davis and Peker’s performances lets us easily understand and relate to each character, drawing us into their fragile but believable relationship.
Talley’s Folly covers many topics: racism, wealth, immigration, refugees, war, economic fears and more. It feels very natural. Wilson’s script is smart and sharp, with these subjects coming back to the fore as the evening’s conversation goes on. There are no throwaway lines; they are all nicely built upon. No issue feels overdone, rushed or crammed in. The play is set in 1944, just as WWII is coming to an end, but was written in 1979 and it’s striking how many of those fears remain with us today. Matt tells the story of his Jewish family fleeing from Europe before WWI and seeking refuge. With war raging in Europe again, this remains just as relevant.
The set (scenery by Joel Soren, construction by Duncan Henderson and scenic artist Frank France) is worth particular praise. It sits beautifully in The Cockpit, and during the prologue when Matt amusingly notes to us that we are sitting in the river it’s not hard to picture the waters flowing around us. The lovely little rowing boat keeps a gap between Matt and Sally, accentuating at times the distance they are struggling to overcome.
In a Q&A session afterwards, it was interesting to hear from director John Gulley and both of the cast as they talked about the performance being slightly different each night. Across the stage and around the boat, they are not stuck to marks; they have freedom to roam and to feel how that evening is going. This allows them to infuse the play with that evening’s feeling, to maybe suggest a hint of connection in the characters’ relationships at different stages. This freedom speaks to the talent in the cast and creative team and the trust that they place in each other.
Talley’s Folly has not played in London in over 40 years. The Cockpit and Burning Coal Theatre Company have put in a strong effort here. A 40 year wait for 97 minutes of fine performance – right on time.
Written by: Lanford Wilson
Directed by: John Gulley
Scenery by: Joel Soren
Scenery Construction by: Duncan Henderson
Scenic Artistry by: Frank France
Produced by: The Cockpit and Burning Coal Theatre Company
Talley’s Folly plays at Cockpit Theatre until 29 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.