Not only is the romance unusual, but so is the opening when Tony Award nominee Danny Burstein bursts onto the stage from the audience to give a rambling monologue as Matt Friedman, a 42 year old Jewish accountant and European refugee, a set up for his observations, letting us know that in 97 minutes the about to be seen love story will be “a waltz one-two-three . . . ” and even has the chutzpah to recount the same monologue in double time for any late comers. All this, orchestrated in Lanford Wilson’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize winner, “Talley’s Folly,” a Roundabout Theatre production at the Laura Pels.
Who or what is Talley’s Folly? It’s the boathouse that’s been part of Sally Talley’s (Sarah Paulson), mid-western Gentile life for all the years she’s lived in Missouri with a family of mostly bigots who are not in favor of Matt (whom they call a “Communist”) who comes a-callin’ months after they met. They are the most unlikely pair - - he, with a very Jewish demeanor, she an uptight blonde Protestant from a well-to-do family who are part owners in a clothing factory. She’s dying to get away from her family and move out. She’s been working as a nurse’s aide in nearby Springfield, rooming with two females, and she and Matt only spent a week together last summer. The time period is World War II.
Matt and Sally are meeting at the boathouse – a very ramshackle, old structure (designed by Jeff Cowie), she in response to his letter, after ignoring him all this time. However, she is anything but loving or even courteous as she challenges his every advance, answering questions with questions, riddles with riddles as she prods and harasses Matt, finally unearthing his past and deep secret.
Burstein is brilliant in this role as he covers his profound and dark past with humor and cleverness, until he is forced to tell the truth; Paulson unwilling to take “no” for an answer, her façade breaking sadly, is unrelenting; their long waltz revealing their aching souls.
Yes, it’s 97 minutes – a long romantic dance that comes to an obvious conclusion but in oh, such a tumultuous wooing.
Talley’s Folly continues at the Roundabout Theater at Laura Pels Theater on West 46th Street, NYC through May 5th. (212) 719-1300 or www.roundabouttheatre.org.