Monday, March 11, 2013

Talley's Folly (NYC)

I’m finding it harder than I thought it would be to write about this show.  For those who don’t know, or haven’t been reading long enough to know, Lanford was a personal friend of mine.  Because of this, I was lucky enough to get to see Talley’s Folly on opening night – even better, I got to see it in a row of people who knew and loved him longer than I did.  (Also, the food at the opening party was really good! :p )

I seem to forget, when I am reading or talking about it, how lovely Lanford’s language really is.  And how much the sound of it matters, the way it feels on the actors tongue and in the audiences ears.  I mean, intellectually, I get that it is lyric realism, and I know what that means, but I forget until I see it – no, hear it – live and done well.  Suffice to say that in Roundabout’s production both Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson make the language sing.  Burstein’s opening monologue reminded me on how beautiful the language of the play is.  The songs of images that roll off his tongue in waves, hitting the audience in waltz time, the sounds and meaning coming off clearly. 

(As a side note, opening night, and amazing thing happened –as it is live theatre.  If you are unaware of this show, the opening monologue is given by Matt, directly to the audience, and in fact starts with the line: “They tell me we have 97 minutes here tonight – without intermission.  So if that means anything to anybody; if you need to get a drink of water or anything…” On opening night, Burstein had a heckler in the front row.  He started the show, and a voice from the audience said – you should go to the bathroom.  A little later on in the monologue, Matt asks the tech booth for a dog bark in the monologue.  Again, our friend in the second row helps out… by barking.  As a theatre practioner, I have a love hate relationship with things and people like this.  I actually love that it clearly reminds us that theatre is live, in front of real people, who can see and interact with us anytime they want to, people who are as much a part of the show as the actors are, after all, theatre without an audience isn’t theatre – it’s a rehearsal – I love that because I think that is theatre’s true power and strength.  Also, it reminds us that the danger, if you will, of theatre is that anything can happen at any moment, expecting it or not.  But also, you work hard on a show and when you haven’t planned for audience interaction…  then you are left scrambling… Burstein did an excellent job of shutting his heckler down, while staying Matt, and not leaving the heckler upset of angry.  Indeed, he made the heckler as much a part of Matt’s experience of the night as the music from the bandstand across the water. )

What I love best about Talley’s Folly is its simplicity.  The arc of the show is clear and lovely.  (I mention this because if you know Lanford’s work, that is not always the case… Balm in Gilead and Hot L immediately come to mind.  Both AMAZING works of art and inspiring shows with very real characters, but simple is also not a word I would use to describe either of them) It is a light and magical night, with two people who love each other desperately, and against all odds – in fact, against even their own hearts really (or at least what they told their hearts they wanted or deserved).  The beauty of this show is watching the love story unfold between these two characters, watching them pull back onion layers of self to show the other, watching two people try to put down their self-defense weapons and love not hurt each other.  Matt talks about people being eggs and therefore fragile. 

One of Lanford’s talents as a playwright, in fact, as a person, was the ability to see, truly see people.  And then tell us what he saw.  Lanford saw the dignity and truth in everyone. It’s what makes his works, like Balm, so powerful.  There is no judgment in his characters, just truth.  And a truth that humans are amazing in all their flaws and choices – in just living.  In Talley’s Folly, he gives these two adult characters their chance to tell their stories.  To let the walls down, not just to each other, but to us.  It is a true adult love story.  The story of two people who are not young (young being the purview of most love stories), trying to get through the years of baggage they have built for themselves, trying to let it go enough to not lose what might be their last chance, trying to learn to listen to their hearts.  

Roundabout’s production of it highlights this simplicity.  (Well, if I am honest, except for the set, which was a fiasco, I thought.  Far to heavy and bulky and showy for Lanford’s magical script.) Matt and Sally obviously care about each other in this show. Paulson’s Sally is a woman made strong through choices made for her and choices she has made, not sure she knows how to put those things down and try something else.  Paulson does a wonderful job showing how much the choices in her life have cost her.  And again, how much it costs her to let that go and trust.  And Sally is not the easiest character to play.  She walks a line between pushing him away and wanting him to stay – too caught up in her own past to see her present and future.  Paulson’s Sally was lovely though.  Sweet, concerned, beautiful and not as fragile as I’ve seen Sally in the past.  And honestly, I liked that.  I always thought Sally was a tough nut.  Sure, fragile underneath, but the only people in the show that seem to realize that is Matt and her aunt.  And Paulson’s Sally hit that note for me.  She made it easier to see why she was attracted to Matt, because Matt knew her, and understood her, when she wasn’t always capable of saying it.

And Burstein’s Matt has all the faith that Matt must have.  Faith that, although his life has not been easy, he is right in this one thing in his life and he pushes through on that belief.  He needs an answer this night.  It’s why this night is so important.  He needs to know if his faith is well placed or no.   

I know this is post has been a little more review-y and less what I learned that most of my posts.  But like I said earlier, what this show reminds me of is what I lost in my own life.  And I am still trying to sort through that.  I, like Sally, have a hard time letting go of things in my past.   It’s a problem.  But, I, like Paulson’s Sally, am stronger than it might seem.  Maybe what I learned from this production is just how important the faith and the fight is, not just in love, but in life.  The faith that you are right, and the willingness to fight for what you want.  And maybe, that you are never too old to go after what you truly want.


  1. Lovely post, Reesa. I love passionate people because they make the sun shine brighter. So even though over here is a rainy day, you conjured up a sun for me :-)

    1. Thanks so much lady! I hope your writing is going just as well and I have a new book to read soon!