Overture Center's Playhouse, through April 1
Talley's Folly, the 1980 Pulitzer Prize winner by Lanford Wilson, is the sort of play in which nothing happens ' and yet everything happens. It takes place during a single July evening in 1944 in a boathouse in tiny Lebanon, Mo., at the edge of the Ozarks. While World War II still rages in far-off places, the battles in Talley's Folly are more intimate. Matt Friedman, a German-Jewish accountant in his 40s, and Sally Talley, a nurse's aide in her 30s, have to confront whether or not they dare fall in love, despite her family's disapproval.
This two-character play, running over 90 minutes with no scene changes or intermission, demands much of its actors. Fortunately, the stars of Madison Repertory Theatre's new production, real-life married couple James Ridge and Colleen Madden, are suited to the task. Under the direction of Rep artistic director Richard Corley, Ridge in particular is splendid as the charming, funny and occasionally immature Matt, whose light manner belies a more troubled past.
Matt is given the playwright's better quips, and Ridge clearly has fun with them, all the while careful not to lay on the German accent too thickly. In Wilson's script, it's noted that Matt has a knack for mimicry, and Ridge handles this deftly, briefly taking on the personas of a tuckered-out old worker bee and the oafish friend of Sally's brother, among others. Whether speaking directly to the audience (as he does at the beginning and end of the show) or to Sally, Ridge is a winning and nimble presence.
Like Ridge, Madden is a company member of American Players Theatre and a familiar face to local audiences. As Sally, she's often the 'straight man' to Matt, exasperated by his impulsiveness and clowning. Considered a spinster and a radical by her family, she longs to move out of the family home in Lebanon. Frankly, I wish Wilson had developed Sally's contrarian nature a bit more; it would make for a juicier character. That, however, should not be construed as a criticism of Madden. She's consistently believable and sympathetic. Her Protestant family wants nothing to do with the 'Communist traitor infidel' Matt. For the two to be together, they need to leave behind small-town social expectations as well as their own damaging pasts.
Although the play loses a little steam after the first hour (a reflection more on the script than the cast), the course is righted by the show's conclusion. Joe Varga's enchanting set deserves special notice. An architectural folly, the dilapidated boathouse is a magical ruin of Victorian latticework and peeling paint. The illusion of floating lily pads around the set adds to the feeling that Sally and Matt are surrounded by water, isolated on their own figurative island where they can dare ' or not ' to embrace human connection.