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Sweet and graceful, ‘Talley’s Folly’ still pleases

“People are eggs,” Matt Friedman says, “they’re fragile and separate, but also alike and ready to hatch into new life if all goes well.” Sally Talley lets this metaphor, the latest one from this odd, quirky would-be suitor, sink in. Uh, oh, she thinks, he’s making sense.

Lanford Wilson’s sweet and graceful little play, “Talley’s Folly,” a Pulitzer Prize winner back in 1980, begins by recalling when Matt met Sally and then brings us up to speed a year later on the fourth of July, 1944, in Lebanon, Mo. – among crickets chirping, dogs barking, parades and fireworks – when the two disparate, lonely souls get together again, she reluctantly, he full steam ahead, to decide if a pairing is possible.

Red Thread Theatre has revived “Talley’s Folly,” proud, they say, to present a “WNY premiere” on its Marie Maday Theatre stage. Not true. The late Studio Arena, in a production starring Cheektowaga’s Christine Baranski, before her Emmy and Tony-winning days, had a “Talley” in the early 1980s, well over 30 years ago. So, Red Thread’s memory lapse can be excused. The only one who would recall would be an aging drama critic. The play is back; that’s good.

Matt and Sally have met down by a creek, near Whistler Talley’s foolishly built, decrepit old boathouse. Matt, a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant, has been chased down to the water by Sally’s red neck brothers; foreign demeanor of any type was frowned upon in the Ozarks. But, Matt is back because he’s intrigued by Sally, her shyness, her secrets, skeletons from a variety of closets – like him in so many ways.

They spar, spat, she, at 31, wary after an almost marriage to a hometown beau and family scorn because of her spinsterhood. On his part, Matt, 42, covers a tragic family past involving the Holocaust with smart-allecky quips and theories. Sally often wants to send the St. Louis accountant packing. Matt  and Sally are adrift, outcasts of a sort. Lanford Wilson folk.

At the end of the day, the unlikely couple have told each other things about themselves that no one else has heard – or asked about, for that matter. Facades that have worked before give way. Sally still protests but Matt – terrible Bogart impressions aside – wins her over: “I can take no for an answer but not evasion or your being scared.” As darkness deepens, Matt and Sally decide that the future need not be uncertain after all.

Eileen Dugan directs James Cichocki and Rebecca Runge in this warm tale of human resilience and second chances. Overall, convincing work by both actors both on stage throughout the 90-plus minutes it takes for chemistry to do its thing and the awkward, stumbling pair to finally admit, long overdue, “I love you.”

Cichocki and Runge clunk about the wooden wharf, and Sally, particularly, is careful not to touch the eager Matt; she’s been hurt somewhere along the line. Runge is very effective. Cichocki’s Matt is possessed: he’s determined, funny, quick and believable.

Dugan’s direction is straightforward, getting through the first 10 minutes of excess – Matt, explaining to the audience why the wharf, what he’s doing there – but, playwright Wilson’s overcute opening didn’t bother the Pulitzer voters, so we can move on too.

“Talley’s Folly,” part of a trilogy that includes “Talley & Son” and “The Fifth of July,” still pleases. It’s homey and touching and in good hands at Red Thread.

Review

3 stars

What: “Talley’s Folly,” comedy drama

Where: Red Thread Theatre, Marie Maday Theatre, Canisius College

When: Through June 7

Tickets: $25 general, $15 seniors, $10 students; Thursday is pay-what-you can.

Length: 90 minutes (no intermission)

Info: 445-4653, redthreadtheatre.info

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