Danny Burstein is a joyous human being and has the gift of sharing that joy with an audience. He connects in “Talley's Folly”farmore than anyone than I have seen on a stage this season. For 97 minutes without an intermission, under the exquisite direction of Michael Wilson, he woos us and Sally Talley with his sweet earnestness and convincing personality. Lanford Wilson, who died in 2011 at the age of 73, wrote this valentine of a play in 1979 and won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for this tender, touching, painfully loving American story.
Burstein is Matt Friedman, an accountant, who happens to be Jewish. He is in love with Sally Talley, a Methodist from Lebanon, Mississippi played with a prim wryness by pretty blond Sarah Paulson. He has pursued her to her farm, to a rundown folly of a beautiful boathouse, designed by Jeff Cowie, lit romantically by Rui Rita, to propose marriage. He knows that her family hates him, just because he is Jewish and 11 years older than she. But she is a more liberal woman of 31 years, who works as a nurse in a Veteran's hospital taking care of the war-wounded. Striking up a friendship with Sally's aunt, Matt has found out through phone calls that Sally has been fired from her job as Sunday school teacher for introducing Veblen's “The Theory of the Leisure Class” to her students.
Both of these lonely, intelligent people have back stories. Matt Friedman was born in Lithuania. His parents and sister were tortured and he escaped to the United States, vowing never to have children. Sally was engaged to the son of a prominent family in town, but after she contracted TB and an infection and could thus not have children, that connection was cruelly severed.
They both find a way to each other, although it seems Matt Friedman's optimism is much stronger than Sally Talley's belief that it will be a success. We can only hope.
“Talley's Folly” is the middle play in a trilogy which includes “Talley and Son” and “Fifth of July.” It will play through May 5 at the Laura Pels Theatre.