“Whatever time there is in a life is a lifetime.” So declares Matt Friedman (played by Keith Rubin ’12), one of only two characters in “Talley’s Folly,” as he proceeds to explain that the span of a worker bee’s life is a mere 29 days and nights — all spent in continuous labour. But the bees are just distractions, like the dialogue about economics and politics later on. Matt seems to realize this, as he interrupts himself on several occasions to announce in his clipped German accent, “If everything goes well tonight, zis should be a waltz.”
“Talley’s Folly” is about neither bees nor economics: rather, it is the dance between two people stricken by love.
The play begins with Matt stepping onto the wooden platform of an abandoned boathouse. He directly addresses the audience and presents them with an itinerary of the evening’s events. The play, he says, will last exactly 97 minutes, what he hopes will be a sufficient amount of time in which to relay his complicated story. Hit by the thought that it might not be, Matt repeats his lines at twice his original speed. The performance is comical as a whole. Dressed in a suit and tie, Matt appears to fit perfectly the archetype of the bumbling intellectual with little romantic experience. But laced within his exaggerated acting is a more serious undertone: there is an edge in Matt’s voice that suggests the play might not be the classic cat-and-mouse chase its spectators expect it to be.
The real action begins when Sally Talley (Sarah Delappe ’12) emerges onstage. Audacious, witty and rebellious, Sally struggles under the repressive hold of her ultraconservative Protestant household. She seeks refuge at the folly — a boathouse that was designed by Sally’s Uncle Whistler, whom Sally admires for his reputation for sidestepping the family’s rigid principles. The folly is also where Sally and Matt met last summer, a bygone affair that culminated with Matt, a man 10 years Sally’s elder, realizing that she is the only “girl who sees the world in the same way” as he does. They have not seen each other since the end of this romance and the play takes place on the day of their reunion. For reasons unknown, Sally is adamant about refusing Matt’s attempts at a marriage proposal. But even as she insists that he leave her alone, Sally watches Matt intently and laughs at his jokes, teasing him with every tilt of her floral dress.
“You can chase me away or wear a pretty dress,” Matt says. “But you can’t wear a pretty dress to chase me away!”
Sally and Matt make a dynamic pair. While Sally remains graceful and alluring for the entirety of the performance, Matt is perpetually at the cusp of being too pedantic or too jovial. He is an erratic character whose impulsiveness seems incongruous with Sally’s sensibility. At times, his speeches feel meandering, and his accent becomes no longer quite so endearing. But just as the production seems to sink into the tedium of a couple’s spat, revelations about Sally and Matt’s parallel pasts infuse the plot with intensity and mystery.
At one point, Sally compares people to eggs — fragile beings that are hesitant to grow close to one another for fear of cracking. But to this Matt asks, “What good is an egg? It ought to be hatched and broken and made into other things. Then you’re cooking.” The final scenes center around this “cooking,” with Matt and Sally daring each other to reveal the secrets of their respective pasts. Once all is exposed, the atmosphere becomes cathartic: Matt and Sally are now free to pursue a future together, and the lights dim as they share a kiss. Though this ending may be too predictable for some audience members’ tastes, Rubin and Delappe maneuver skillfully around the sparse set, making the most of a one-act, two-person play.
“Talley’s Folly” will be showing at the Whitney Theater this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.