Love, it’s a leap of faith

‘Talley’s Folly’ delivers comedy, romance and drama

Lanford Wilson’s “Talley’s Folly” won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Peterborough Players first staged this ambitious play in 1981, and now in the theater’s 80th season they’ve taken it on again, with real-life married couple David Breitbarth and Kate Hampton playing the would-be couple in this romantic comedy that embraces some heavy subject matter.

Anti-Semitism, war and notions of what it means to be a man and a woman are the themes that drive this story. But it’s the humor that makes it so palatable, and in Breitbarth’s character we find funny man Matt Friedman, who is hot in pursuit of Sally Talley, a no-nonsense nurse’s aid, played by Hampton, who has some serious reservations about the whole relationship. She’s ready to throw in the towel when the city man shows up at her doorstep in rural Missouri. The couple is reunited on July 4, 1944, at the Talley family boathouse after a year apart.

The Peterborough Players production crew — made up of Scenic Designer Charles Morgan, Costume Designer Sam Fleming, Lighting Designer John Eckert, Sound Designer Kevin Frazier and Props Designer Sarah Powell — have outdone themselves with the set for “Talley’s Folly.” It’s an outdoor setting with waterfront, vegetation and a Victorian-style folly, or what one might call a scenic gazebo-like boathouse.

The set and sound effects are nearly characters in their own right, in this one-act, no intermission play, which runs 97 minutes. But thankfully they don’t outshine Breitbarth and Hampton, whose commitment to their respective roles is unwavering.

Hampton has played on Broadway in both “The Best Man” and “The Deep Blue Sea.” Breitbarth last appeared on the Players stage in 2008 as Doc Gibbs in “Our Town.” He’s been playing in regional theaters for close to two decades.

The two play people who are strongly shaped by their pasts, and it’s their secrets that have kept them from getting too close to the opposite sex. Their untold stories could be the key to future happiness, but something is holding them back. The New Testament maxim, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” hasn’t quite caught up with them, that is, until now. Now is the moment of truth and the couple’s relationship hangs in the balance.

Will Matt and Sally be brave enough to have their truths come out, or will old hurts and family prejudices stand in the way? Sally is much more liberal than her prominent family dynasty would like, but in a romantic connection with Friedman she’d be forever on the wrong side of capitalism and maybe even democracy. Matt’s European, Jewish upbringing could pose a dividing line that neither he nor Sally can breach.

The genius of this play is in its comic relief. Matt is forever distracting Sally from the perceived relationship difficulties with his antics. He gets Sally to teach him how to ice skate in the old boathouse and then, when he injures himself, Sally’s maternal instincts kick in bringing them closer together, at least physically.

Breitbarth and Hampton have their characters’ accents down pat, and Breitbarth’s comedic timing doesn’t miss a beat. These actors are effortless on stage and the audience forgets they’re each playing someone else.

She loves me, she loves me not isn’t the question, Matt is trying to answer. “It’s the puzzle of why is she so afraid of loving me” that keeps him coming back for more rejection.

It sounds like a no-win situation, but somehow Matt holds out hope — a burning hope that he and Sally will break through the seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Sally, for her part, puts up a lot of resistance, keeping him and the audience guessing.

Their story seemingly holds the answer to the question of whether love really does conquer all.

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