“Tender, lyrical, charming,” are all words frequently used to characterize Lanford Wilson’s 1979 Pulitzer Prize winning Talley’s Folly. Further, it’s often billed as a “romantic comedy.” “Uh-oh,” you may say, “another heart warmer. Give me a break.” Instead, you could find yourself agreeing with the above responses. Especially in the present production at Pittsburgh Public Theater in which actor Andrew Polk and director Pamela Berlin make it happen.
I know. I know. It’s another two-character, no intermission show and we’ve been getting a lot of them these days. So, of course, this raises questions about what makes such a seemingly simple situation so special. Answer: a lot.
You get a good idea of this production’s quality the minute you walk inside the theater and try to avoid stepping on what looks like a fragile lily pad floating by a frail wooden dock. Wilson specified this setting and Michael Schweikardt has been brought in to remarkably evoke it. Swiftly you encounter other reflections, the musings and perceptions of ironically intelligent Matt Friedman, marvelously and genuinely personified by Polk. From there he and truthful, earnest Julie Fitzpatrick as Sally Talley become engaged in what Wilson/Friedman describe as a “waltz.” Because Matt takes the lead from the outset, more verbally adept, more motivated by a goal, Sally can come across first as no one special, even though Sally has flouted small-town Missouri conventions. Fitzpatrick certainly does her justice but, inevitably, becomes overshadowed.
Berlin’s production flows naturally, stepping into all the right places, turning in many directions, but always beautifully balanced, letting each personality lead into and out of shadowy corners. Credit, too, Berlin’s perceptive physical touches, natural movements which say the right things to underscore the words being said.
I won’t tell you the premise. Matt will. Besides, it’s not all that complicated. The complications are in the characters. Wilson has evoked two people who, on the surface, look mismatched. But, as they get to know each other, as revelations and closely guarded secrets emerge, the evening’s light reveals why they belong together. Meanwhile, though the premise remains elemental, Wilson’s dialogue for Matt shimmers with eloquence. And Polk knows exactly how to deliver it, never pushing, almost gliding.
This is a waltz, remember?
Talley’s Folly continues through December 12th at Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, downtown. 412/ 316 1600 www.ppt.org