The cast numbers just two, but the spell cast by Dominion Stage's gentle production of the one-act play "Talley's Folly" is the product of many contributors.
The play is by Lanford Wilson. He is well known for "Hot L Baltimore" and "The Gingham Dog," but it is this gentle play that earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is a lyrical, lovely piece set at the end of World War II in the small Missouri town where Wilson grew up, Lebanon.
Part of the charm of the evening is the set that director Frank Pasqualino designed, which turns the stage of Theatre One at the Gunston Arts Center into a gazebo-like structure on the shores of a lake.
That gazebo is the "folly" of the title. It is referred to as a "folly," not as in the singular of the theatrical form known as "the follies," nor as in a thoughtlessly reckless behavior. It is the architectural meaning of the term that is relevant here: a decorative building of elaborate design.
This "folly" however, is a bit run-down and dilapidated; a genteel reminder of a more carefree time. Lighting designer Richard Schwab adds to the feel with a shimmering reflection effect that makes the entire structure seem as if it really is on the banks of a small lake where the upper class families of the town have long had homes. Pasqualino adds the sound of an unseen dance band playing in the distance across the lake.
THE REAL CHARM, however, comes from the work of the two performers: Craig Klein and Ariel Grayson. Klein plays a middle-aged Jewish man of immigrant heritage who comes courting Grayson, a gentile woman from a long established, prominent family in Lebanon.
Wilson's script gives Klein the opportunity to charm his intended and the audience too, for the play opens with the man addressing the audience, bringing them into his world and sharing with them his hopes and dreams. In the hands of Klein, the effect is to get the audience on his side from the start. A happy ending would be one that finds the two in each others arms.
When Grayson makes her entrance the play reverts to a less fanciful
structure with the two characters addressing each other in the give and take of discussion. The man has a challenging task before him, attempting to convince the woman to accept his affection when all she thinks she wants is for him to leave her alone.
Using every gambit he can think of, the man keeps the conversation going in order to have at least a chance to convince her that they have so much in common among the things that really count that they would make each other happy. She, on the other hand, is using every trick from her debutante past to avoid an emotional attachment.
Through it all, each of the characters reveal details of their lives that
not only make them interesting to each other, but fascinating to the
audience. The cumulative effect of all the revelations is to convince the woman to take this suitor seriously.
He has, in effect, cast his spell. The spell is never broken by an
intermission or a false step, right up to the final kiss.
Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a website covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.