The Colonial Players' opener, Langford Wilson's "Talley's Folly," is, as its hero suggests, "a waltz, 1,2,3; 1,2,3, a romantic story."
This unsentimental romance demands much from its two actors, who have to make their characters' complexities intelligible while eliciting the audience's sympathy. The director must set a lively pace for this show and make the dialogue sing.
Director Anne Ellis manages to do this, setting a restrained but lively pace, punctuated with a stillness that heightens the tension of the drama.
Both the director and actor Ken Sabel, who plays Matt Friedman, have Naval Academy connections. Ellis is an assistant professor in the English Department, and Sabel is a computer specialist in the Information Technology Services Division.
Sabel strides on stage at the start of the evening, greets the audience, indicates the fire exits, warns there will be no intermission in this 97-minute play and casually shows us around the boathouse set as he slips seamlessly into the role of Matt Friedman.
We are transported to July 4, 1944, when a world war was being fought in Europe and the South Pacific. Just arrived in Lebanon, Mo., from St. Louis, middle-aged Jewish accountant Friedman waits for veterans hospital nurse Sally Talley in her less-than-comfortable Victorian boathouse, a part of the Talley family's estate. Sally arrives seemingly annoyed at her persistent suitor, who has distressed her parents and brother with his "communist ideas."
Sue Bell's characterization of Sally is believable. She is not required to deliver as much dialogue as Sabel, so she conveys much through body language. Bell is on stage almost as long as Sabel, during which time her Sally grows in trust, openness and honesty. Bell's is a subtle and touching portrayal that is tuned to Sabel's Matt.
Sabel does some of his finest work in this role of a lonely man with a sad past who has finally found what he wants.
Twenty years after its debut, the 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is still moving. It challenges the audience to consider how these characters arrived at their present states.
Sabel, Bell and Ellis are not well-served by the set designer and lighting and sound crews. In a character-driven play, where there is little on-stage action, the audience needs a set with strong visual appeal.
Sally's boathouse dwelling has little that could be described as whimsical or Victorian, only sparse furnishing with an inverted barrel and a rowboat for seating. The Colonial Players' lighting and sound are usually top-notch, but in this production the fixed lighting contributed little to the unfolding drama, nor was sound used effectively.
The length of the uninterrupted play is also troublesome. A 15-minute intermission would irreparably harm the flow of this drama, but I wonder if a 1- or 2-minute seventh-inning stretch could be arranged, perhaps announced at the outset. The break could occur when music is heard across the river.
"Talley's Folly" continues through Oct. 2. Reservations: 410-268-7373.