The personals ad might look like this: Awkward Jewish accountant seeks melancholy Southern belle. Must enjoy evasive conversation, shots of gin and long walks on the broken-down pier. Terrible secrets a plus.
This, in short, is Talley's Folly, a lovable evening-length one-act by Lanford Wilson. The story takes place in 1944, but Wilson wrote the script in 1979. And in the last days of 2010, Folly finally opens at the Pittsburgh Public Theater. It's a witty tale, and the two lovers are quite endearing. But today it begs the question: Did this play really deserve a Pulitzer Prize for best drama?
Like Nobels for serving presidents, Pulitzers can be a burden. They add a lot of pressure to well-meaning works. And as our culture evolves, the winners of yesteryear can seem like odd choices later on. Sure, Folly is a cute story about a bearded nerd who talks too much and his shiksa crush. But is this 97-minute romance really so brilliant? Come to think of it, is it even believable?
You can decide. The Public has produced a masterful Talley's Folly, and audiences are obligated to enjoy it. After all, it's a love story, and no matter how frustrating and cyclical the dialogue, you will smile at the finale despite yourself. Your heart will swell when the band plays across the water, because that's what happens when bands play across water. You'll realize, halfway through, that the lighting has dimmed, and you'll think, Oh, wow, I didn't even see it happen. It's like an actual sunset.
You will probably figure out the "twist" before the curtain speech is over, but you'll still take a meaningful breath when Talley's "folly" is revealed. Did this hidden truth merit a Pulitzer? Maybe the committee was more sentimental in 1980.
But no matter. As Matt Friedman, Andrew Polk seems to enjoy himself -- his accent is pitch-perfect and he has mastered the comical Yiddish aside. As Sally Talley, Julie Fitzpatrick looks like an exhausted, waifish mess -- and she has the resigned voice to match. They share a magnificent world; scenic designer Michael Schweikardt has constructed a breathtaking set, one of the finest of the year. And if Polk dominates the stage, it's only because he has far more lines. In this two-actor show, Wilson clearly favors his neurotic male.
Lovey-dovey as it is, Folly is still a dark choice for the holiday season, and the Public should be commended for its selection. But if you need more sugar with your cookie, rejoice: The Chief is now on DVD.
Talley's Folly continues through Dec. 12. Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org.
- Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Public Theater.
- Southern culture on skates: Julie Fitzpatrick and Andrew Polk in Talley's Folly, at Pittsburgh Public Theater.