Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly is a small play in almost every way. It’s a two-hander and all the action takes place on a single set, a rundown boathouse near a farm in Lebanon, Mo., a month after D-Day. The plot is slight: a 42-year-old Jewish accountant named Matt ardently woos a Protestant spinster named Sally who is a decade younger and a lot more wary about the idea of romance. The whole thing unfolds, as Matt tells the audience at the beginning of the play, in just 97 minutes. And yet, Talley’s Folly won the Pulitzer Prize.
The revival that opened this week at the Roundabout Theatre’s Laura Pels Theatre shows why this little play won that big prize. It’s not just that Wilson tells his tale in language that is simultaneously plainspoken (the way we are) and poetic (the way we yearn to be) but that he has created a love story that speaks to the heart of anyone who has ever believed him or herself to be unlovable. And who hasn't, at some time, felt that?
As luck would have it, my friend Phil and I had tickets for the original 1980 Broadway production (it transferred after a run at Circle Rep) on the very day that the play won the Pulitzer. The performances by Judd Hirsch and Trish Hawkins had already drawn lavish praise (“Mr. Hirsch’s performance is surely one of the finest of this season, last season, any season,” declared Walter Kerr in his review for the Times) and so Phil and I were feeling pretty smug about seeing the show. But then our luck ran out.
Two women with large shopping bags sat right in front of us and began talking animatedly, which they continued to do throughout much of the performance, despite Phil’s polite requests that they quiet down. I was so mad at, and distracted by, them that even when they finally did shut up, I couldn’t focus on the play. So I was eager for this chance to see it again. And now I’m really glad that I got to see this production of it.