Vines twine around ornate lattice work and climb the sagging beams of a deteriorating structure. They force their way through cracked and broken slats while grass pokes up between wooden planks so imbued with dust that the original grain and color have all but disappeared. This is what hope looks like in Heartwood Regional Theater Co.’s upcoming production of “Talley’s Folly.”
“Talley’s Folly,” the fourth play in Heartwood’s 20th season, is a far different beast than the company’s season opener. While “Les Miserable” had a large cast, elaborate costumes and staging, and a story that took place over the course of years, “Talley’s Folly” has just two actors and takes place in a single night. It is the first two-hander in the history of the company.
Lanford Wilson’s 1979 play is one of three he wrote about the Talleys, a wealthy conservative family in the Ozarks of the 1940s, whose fortunes had fallen during the depression but who nevertheless maintained a prominent position in local society.
The play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and a Tony Award for the evocative set design by John Lee Beatty.
That set is echoed on the stage of the Poe Theater in Newcastle with a disintegrating boat house, an example of the ornamental landscape elements widely known as follies for their impractical nature. Heartwood Artistic Director Griff Braley describes the boathouse as “a broken-down dream with life growing through it and in it and under it.”
“Talley’s Folly” presents a conversation between Sally Talley, the family’s closed-off spinster daughter and Matt Friedman, a buttoned-up Jewish accountant from St. Louis. Friedman arrived at the Talley estate on July 4, 1944 with his heart on his sleeve to woo the woman he fell in love with during a brief fling the previous summer. He finds himself immediately rebuffed not only by the reactionary Talley family, but also by the object of his affection.
Actors Joe Lugosch and Nanette Hennig Fraser, both familiar to Lincoln County theater audiences, are tasked with portraying both sides of that pivotal conversation, one that has the potential to fulfill their characters’ dreams or dash their hopes forever.
“It’s a really delicate psychological place to land,” said Braley about the balance required to achieve the play’s intricately drawn dramatic arc.
Both actors spent months exploring the complicated relationship between their characters.
“He’s basically been this adding machine,” Lugosch said of Friedman. “He’s just been this person making lists and then all of a sudden he has feelings. I don’t think he can go back.”
According to Fraser, her character has “accepted her fate as a broken woman,” one whose chance for love and happiness has passed her by.
Playing two characters who are so separate and yet so connected has stretched the skills of both actors.
“Being in something like this you need to breathe it, live in it in a different way,” Lugosch said.
The hours of rehearsal they have put in as the only two people on stage have given Lugosch and Fraser an almost tangible rapport that lends their performances an earned authenticity. Performing those roles in front of an audience will be a different experience.
“You develop this thing,” Braley said of the actors. “Just these two people – smaller and smaller, closer and more intimate. Then when someone comes into the space the scale explodes outward again, and the challenge is to bring it back down to that scale every night. To the closeness of these two people.”
“Talley’s Folly” is what Braley calls “a serious romance,” one that is neither comedy despite its humor, nor tragedy despite its pathos.
Lugosch, as Friedman, references the most romantic of dances during the opening monologue, informing the audience that “if everything goes well for me tonight this should be a waltz.”
Indeed, the 97-minute conversation between the two characters feels like a waltz with its cadence of rises and falls, its pushing forward, its pulling away.
It’s not that easy though. Toes are stepped on, timing isn’t perfect, and the couple is clearly out of sync.
Talley, as played by an expressive Fraser, is not easily swayed by her suitor’s protestations of devotion or by the painful secret he reveals to her in an effort to convince her of the sincerity of his feelings. Talley has secrets of her own.
Nevertheless, the two lovers stumble their way toward each other, sometimes literally, through moments of passion, moments of surrender, moments of anger, of humor, of despair, of frustration, of deep love, all underpinned by a longing for something that has long been considered lost. “Talley’s Folly” is a vain hope that, against all odds, comes to fruition and in doing so allows the audience to hope too.
“Talley’s Folly” can be seen at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 28-29, and Thursday through Saturday, May 4-6.
Tickets are $5 for students through college and $20 for all adults. Reservations are recommended and can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 563-1373.