Playwright Lanford Wilson (which is not a name that frequently surfaces in theatre communities or classrooms, though it should) has a mastery over words. For example: Talley is the last name of Sally, whose family owns the "folly" (or small boathouse) and who is also the woman who lives in fear of the "folly" (or supposed error) in her past. He also creates an intelligent, moving script that explores human relationships, fear, war, politics, and the consequences of choice. A relatively short piece, clocking in at about an hour and a half, Folly captures the beauty and desperation of the late-summer-night setting that mirrors the chances of love and understanding between its two characters. The script explores big questions: How well can we know someone else? Can we ever really share a true understanding with another person?
Set on the dock of a folly in the Midwest during the Second World War, the play begins with a monologue by Matt (Pat Flaherty) about his upcoming reunion with Sally (Lora Adams), the woman with whom he had a seven-day affair the previous year. Wilson casually breaks the boundaries of the fourth wall, allowing the eccentric Matt to prepare the audience for the upcoming on-stage interaction by informing people that they are seated in the river (while he stands at the dock). Sally is a slim, attractive woman who works as a nurse, caring for wounded soldiers and avoiding getting too involved in relationships. Though she appears prim in manner, Sally is just as thoughtful, observant, and witty as Matt, but fear restrains her from taking chances in life.
Both characters are nearly middle-aged, and hope sometimes seems the only emotion to cling to for both of them, each of whom has past secrets too painful to reveal until trust is established. I like Talley's Folly because the script never reveals too much and continues to introduce character quirks as it progresses: Matt finds pleasure in using different accents and wearing ice skates on the dock, while Sally enjoys hearing the marching band from the pavilion across the water. We, as the audience, are constantly wondering about the hidden lives of these characters, and if they can ever find a common ground of understanding and acceptance. Matt refuses to have children, because he thinks they will become involved in war, which he finds an unworthy cause. He thinks his desire to not procreate will not be acceptable to Sally, although she has some similar secrets of her own.
Folly at New Ground would not work without the incredible talent and interaction of Flaherty and Adams, who spin the love story of Matt and Sally like a beautiful, many-layered web. Despite suffering a closed black eye from emergency retinal surgery, the bearded Flaherty didn't so much as stumble, instead mastering the various accents, Bogart impressions, and intensity required by the play. Adams was perfect as the courageous but uncertain nurse who needs a push to take the next step toward love.
There is so much embedded in Talley's Folly, and the show moves so quickly, that audiences need to pay attention to each word and metaphor Wilson chooses. Folly is a promising love story, and the stuff that truly beautiful, inspiring theatre is made of.
Talley's Folly will be performed Thursdays through Sundays, August 26 through September 5, at Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Adult tickets are $12 and can be reserved by calling (563)326-7529.