LyricStage play is no Folly

by Beacon Staff • April 12, 2006

That was a massive success for the company, and the Lyric chose to substantially lighten the mood by following with a sweet romantic comedy, Talley's Folly, written by Lanford Wilson.,The Lyric Stage Company had its best season to date this year, climaxing with show number eight of nine, The Goat, or, who is Sylvia?

That was a massive success for the company, and the Lyric chose to substantially lighten the mood by following with a sweet romantic comedy, Talley's Folly, written by Lanford Wilson.

Preceding this play with an Edward Albee piece was eerily intuitive, being that the last four decades of theatre have been more influenced by him than any other living playwright. Dead playwrights seem to have quite loud voices).

Wilson is certainly no exception, but as a playwright, not being Edward Albee is as much a burden as it is a blessing.

An honored tradition in the whole of theatre, even more so that other mediums, has been the third-act spoken flashback narrative, as in the female character reveals that she once: a) had an illegitimate child; b) was raped by her father; c) had a lesbian encounter; or d) is actually a man.

And the whole dialogue leading to this point has been a kind of masturbatory tiptoeing of the issue, ruffling the fray of the play's central message.

After Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot) and Albee's first smash (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf), the dialogue became an outlet of artistic absurdity.

Say what you will of its impact, but no matter; the theatre has either been trying to top it or to recover from it for years. Talley's Folly aims to remedy for the latter category.

Not to say that Folly isn't absurd, or at least comic.

Matt (Stephen Russell), a Polish immigrant who settled for an accounting job in St. Louis, and Sally (Marianna Bassham), a Missouri spinster-in-waiting play off each other much like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton did in much of his best work, or for the theatre much like Mike Nichols and Elaine May's finest.

The characters exploit each other's idiosyncrasies in great acuity of the comic stage aesthetic only George S. Kaufman and a few others could rival; the lines are terribly witty.

But like the easier-written medium of film, the play simply cannot stand on one-liners.

This is where theater and film comedy differ most primarily; film builds one-liners to a large comedic climax, hiding its message under heaps of laughter in the best of them (any Marx Bros. films or Allen, or any Billy Wilder comedy).

Theatre, however, flips its philosophy on top of its comedy in most occasions, and no different was this play.

So what do you have here?

This is a play about a man who doesn't belong in the Midwest, with a Midwesterner, and a Midwestern woman, who belongs only if her aspirations are spinster-dom. Matt opens a world of love to her she cannot allow herself to accept from the constraints of the day.

But through heaps of those one-liners and a little secrets and lies traded, their conclusion is clear and inevitable.

But one could know that reading Playbill.

This play is Lanford Wilson's second of a trilogy, the first being Fifth of July, where Folly's Sally is an old woman, having just buried our Matt, and dealing with her children about the Vietnam War and the unwanted presence of money and debt in their lives.

The oft-repeated anecdote about this is that the actress playing Sally in the first production of Fifth asked Lanford Wilson about Sally's history and the Matt character mentioned but never written.

Wilson took this query to muse and developed the idea of a romantic comedy to liven the stage he was so quick to make tragic.

So ultimately the play became a sort of postmodern theatre antidote, or a laughter break. Folly became quite an enchanting little romp, if and a success worthy of the high praise its predecessor received.

But that in itself is trivial.

Do we go to the theatre to laugh like we laugh at the great film comedies earlier mentioned? The theatre has made us uncomfortable and full of vexation for so many years now. While stage comedies still rival stage dramas in number, do we still need the toss-away comedy that the stage can offer?

Especially in the case of a revival, we can just as easily pop in a DVD to watch some of the best of stage, and be just as entertained.

But if you want to receive that temporary enchantment from real people in front of you, than this play, at this stage might be your best bet of the year.