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Talley’s Folly at The Cockpit | Review

The show’s programme doesn’t say it, and neither does the opening address to the audience, in which almost everything else is explained, including the length of the play (ninety-seven minutes, and so it naturally follows that by my reckoning it was ninety-six) to the use of lighting later on to depict moonlight, but the show is set in Lebanon, Missouri, in 1944, where Lanford Wilson (1937-2011), the show’s playwright, was born. It could have been set in any other rural community with boathouses, frankly, but there we are.

Kelly Pekar and Jerome Davis, Talley's Folly.
Kelly Pekar and Jerome Davis, Talley’s Folly.

Taking place in real time over the course of an evening, Matt Friedman (Jerome Davis) and Sally Talley (Kelly Pekar) are both peculiar individuals who, at the end of the day, probably deserve each other, or at least each other’s company. Her initial entry, after Friedman’s welcoming spiel, involves her being flustered and making it clear she does not want him there. The whole thing is set in a boathouse that could do with redecorating – then again, the Second World War is still in progress so there were other priorities, even in the United States where air raid shelters weren’t necessary for obvious reasons.

Friedman is quite insistent that the play is a waltz, by which I took to mean it is meant to be like a carefully coordinated dance, rather than something grubby and unplanned. It came across to me more like a chess match, each combatant being a skilled tactician trying to outmanoeuvre the other – Friedman eventually wins, but by way of verbal abuse, overcoming her reticence to answer a deeply personal and evasive question by yelling repeatedly at her.

Having obtained the information he wanted by intimidation, it’s a stark example of a successful attempt at overpowering and controlling someone, which makes the closing embrace seem far removed from the happy ending it might otherwise have been. I shudder to think what happens to Talley after the curtain falls: she had it right when she rejected his advances previously. She was physically restrained at one point, too.

Friedman also liked to answer Talley’s questions by telling stories, and it is seldom immediately clear what relevance his tales have to the current topic of discussion. This does, at least, allow the script to meander through various pertinent subject areas, including personal identity, economic uncertainty and escaping from war in Europe. Commendably, there’s no forced attempt at putting a contemporary spin on such matters, with the audience given the freedom to make the connections between then and now, should they wish to do so, for themselves.

Both actors are convincing in their roles, even if Friedman’s sense of humour would make him a good Christmas cracker joke writer: it’s no accident that this accountant is more animated talking about personal finances than he is about personal feelings. There is, as I have often said, a reason why certain plays aren’t revived very often: put simply, there are others worthier of attention. Here, neither character cares much, if at all, about the other one’s turbulent troubles, which makes it difficult, in turn, to care for either of them. As a period play, however, it has an unusual and intriguing narrative, even if it left me feeling more than a little disengaged at times.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

It’s 1944 and the chaos of war means societies fracture, traditional expectations are collapsing, and people’s lives are the collateral damage. For Sally and Matt, caught together in a fading Missouri idyll and from wildly different backgrounds, there is hurt and anger. They are worlds apart but, as Wilson’s play suggests, anger plus hope can equal change. Now, as then, upheaval, division and disquiet stalk continents and damaged and displaced people must find each other – no matter how difficult those connections might seem.

Writer Lanford Wilson
Director John Gulley
Sound and music Juan Isler
Lighting designer Matthew Adelson
Scenery Joel Soren
Set construction Duncan Henderson
Costume designer Neena Rai
Dialect Coach Rebecca Bossen
Dramaturg Erik Kildow
Stage Manager Courtney Pisano
Producers Burning Coal Theatre

Matt Friedman Jerome Davis
Sally Talley Kelly Pekar

Social @burningcoaltc | @cockpittheatre

Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley’s Folly
The Cockpit, Gateforth Street, London NW8 8EH
Thursday 13th October – Saturday 29th October 2022

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