Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

Aurora stages Pulitzer-winning play on Southern bias, conflicts

[Woody’s Rating: ★★½☆☆

In “Talley’s Folly,” Sally (played by Lauren English) has trouble explaining her past to Matt (Rolf Saxon). Photo by David Allen.

She’s in a dual struggle — to transcend prejudices of her redneck family and to deflect ridiculing of her singsong name, Sally Talle.

He’s in an uphill battle to conquer his fears of remaining an underdog and misfit.

And to neutralize her anxiety about being adversely linked with him.

They’re an unlikely pair of walking wounded, unlikely to triumph over her kin’s biases.

Whether they eventually can is the puzzlement of “Talley’s Folly,” a two-character drama that won a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1980 and is currently being revived by the Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley.

I found the new, 97-minute production much like life itself — sometimes electrifying and fast-moving, sometimes sluggish enough to be doze-worthy.

It also made me remember a classic Yogi Berra phrase: It’s déjà vu all over again.

“Talley’s Folly” focuses on circa-World War II differences in religion and class — and on a prickly intimacy achieved through verbal and physical dances of love on the Fourth of July, 1944.

And because it’s replete with a glut of references to barefaced anti-Semitism, it repeatedly jerked me forward to scary 2015 headlines from Europe.

Sally’s family was once one of the two wealthiest in Lebanon, Missouri, a community that happens to be prolific playwright Lanford Wilson’s real hometown.

So the Talleys had severe expectations of her — the gentile princess.

Matt Friedman, a Lithuanian-born Jewish accountant from St. Louis, arrives unexpectedly after a year away — to persuade Sally, a nurse’s aide once fired as a Christian Sunday School teacher, that he loves her and that she should escape with him.

He’s disregarded her not answering his letters.

They verbally fence in her family’s rundown boathouse (the physical folly of the title). They talk and talk and talk, and finally swap secrets (which, in my opinion, dovetail a little too easily).

Insults become part of the mix.

She accuses him, for instance, of not having “the perception God gave lettuce.”

He in turn knocks her family (particularly brother Buddy, who apparently can’t see him as anything but a semi-human outsider/Communist-socialist/traitor).

Lauren English plays Sally with Southern drawl and demeanor intact, opposite Rolf Saxon, who’s utterly convincing as the urbane Matt.

“Talley’s Folly” is a serious play laced sporadically with humor.

Especially funny is Matt’s rambling opening monologue to the audience (which he repeats at breakneck speed).

Imitations of Humphrey Bogart and a repugnant German likewise evoke amusement.

For most of the play, though, Sally and Matt are both awkward, “private people” trapped in their histories and what she might have called their Sunday best.

It’s as if they were pimply teenagers at ages 31 and 42.

And they essentially resemble one of his verbalized thoughts: Because people are like eggs, they must be careful not to bump into each other too hard.

The play was directed by Joy Carlin, a Bay Area theatrical hall-of-famer who portrayed Sally in the 1979 American Conservatory Theater production of “Fifth of July,” the last part of Wilson’s trilogy, which the Aurora will reprise from April 23 through May 17.

Although “Talley’s Folly” — which acts as a prequel within that trilogy — is filled with conflicts, it’s almost action-less.

Which makes Carlin’s task of injecting life nearly impossible.

She actually does amazing well considering the loquacious raw material Wilson provides.

“Talley’s Folly” runs at Harry’s UpStage at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, through June 7. Night performances, Tuesdays, 7 p.m.; Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. Matinees, Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets: $30-35. Information: or (510) 843-4822.

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