Sally (Lauren English*) tends to an injured Matt (Rolf Saxon*) in Aurora Theatre Company’s Talley’s Folly. Photo: David Allen
Sally (Lauren English) tends to an injured Matt (Rolf Saxon) in Aurora Theatre Company’s Talley’s Folly. Photo: David Allen

Those who are fortunate and fast enough to find tickets for Aurora’s Theatre’s Talley’s Folly will enjoy a first-class theatrical experience.

Celebrated author Lanford Wilson (1937–2011) deservedly won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this tender two-person, one-act romantic comedy. It’s one of the plays in Wilson’s famed trilogy about the wealthy Talley family of Lebanon, Missouri. Aurora will be presenting the two other plays in the trilogy, Wilson’s Fifth of July from April 17 through May 17, 2015, and four private staged readings of the less produced Talley & Son in April.

Noted Bay Area veteran actor and director Joy Carlin directs inspired performances by Lauren English, as the unmarriageable 30-year old Sally Talley, and Rolf Saxon, as 40-something Matt Friedman, a Jewish émigré accountant from St. Louis, who shows up on July 4, 1944 at the Talley boathouse (or folly) to propose marriage to Sally.

Lauren English and Matt Friedman share a tender moment in Talley’s Folly. Photo: David Allen
Lauren English and Matt Friedman share a tender moment in Talley’s Folly. Photo: David Allen

The two haven’t seen each other in the year since Matt met Sally while he vacationed in her hometown, but the ardent Matt has written to Sally daily since then. Not dissuaded by her lack of reply, and her gentile family’s prejudice against him, Matt takes his heart in his hand and charmingly exposes his most intimate secrets and thoughts to Sally, while cajoling her to reciprocate. This is not an easy exercise for either of these tarnished souls. But perhaps, despite their apparent differences, there could be a meeting of minds and hearts.

Before the action of the play begins, actor Rolf Saxon as Matt, introduces the scene to the audience, explaining that the play will take 97 minutes and he hopes to relate his story fittingly in that time. He tells the audience that the gazebo-like structure next to him is a Victorian boathouse, which has unfortunately fallen into disrepair. The artful scenic design by Jon Tracy and the intimate setting of Harry’s Upstairs theatre with merely 49 seats both add to the sense that we are eavesdropping on a memorable private conversation.

The play’s title, a double entendre that speaks not only to the couple’s meeting place, but also to the notion of Sally finding a soulmate at all, no less in Matt Friedman, gives prominence to their story as part of the Talley family saga.

Talley’s Folly is actually the second play that Wilson wrote about the family. The first was 1979’s Fifth of July, which explores America’s disillusionment in the wake of the Vietnam War as it affects the Talley family and their friends. Talley & Son, the rarely performed third play in Wilson’s trilogy, takes place on the same day as Talley’s Folly, and concerns battles among the Talley fathers and sons over the family business.

With two marvelously subtle and touching performances by Lauren English and Rolf Saxon under the gentle direction by Joy Carlin, the award-winning Talley’s Folly is a joy.

Talley’s Folly runs through June 7. For information, extended performance dates and tickets, visit the Aurora Theatre online.

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Emily S. Mendel

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...