Lanford Wilson's "Talley's Folly" is like a trip to the old family scrapbook. It has warm humor and homey wisdom, and while cute at times, it's a quietly good-natured romance in one act, with actor Stanley Anderson enhancing its charm.
He performs opposite Greta Lambert in the Round House Theater's production of this bittersweet play about a Lithuanian Jew's unlikely courtship of a Protestant- American princess, who also happens to be the black sheep of a clan of Missouri rednecks.
The action, circa 1944, takes place on the Talley family farm in a whimsically Victorian boathouse built by Sally Talley's late Uncle Whistler -- the only kindred spirit Sally ever found among her relatives. The rococo building, Sally's refuge -- nicely evoked by set designer Richard H. Young -- is famous as "Talley's Folly" among the Babbitts of Lebanon, Missouri.
As accountant Matt Friedman, Sally's immigrant suitor from the big city of St. Louis -- a "Communist traitor infidel, a man more dangerous than Roosevelt" to Sally's anti- Semitic father -- Anderson creates a character who's hard to resist. There are those who manage, however. He's hiding at the boathouse because Sally's brother Buddy greeted him with a shotgun. Matt has come to ask Sally's hand, and won't be put off.
Slightly disheveled in a double-breasted suit, Anderson bustles from the wings like an overeager host, and starts the proceedings before the actual play -- while people in the audience are still looking for their seats. He reminds us to take care of things and make ourselves at home -- "I thought I'd just point out the facilities," he says with the barest suggestion of an accent. The conceit is disarmingly believable: Matt is what Yiddish-speakers would call a haimisher guy.
"I know what you're thinking," he says in the middle of his insouciantly haphazard opening monologue about bees, moonbeams, waltzes and love. "If I'd known it was gonna be like this I wouldn't have come." And the play, and the audience, belong to Matt.
Lambert arrives breathlessly a few minutes later, and also cuts an appealing figure as Sally -- still trying to break away from her trogladytic kinfolk at age 31. She makes sparks in the role of a woman afraid of being wooed. "You are one total big loose screw," she berates the ardent Matt. "You do not have the perception God gave lettuce." Happily, Lambert and Anderson project good chemistry.
The play lasts little more than an hour and a half, with Matt and Sally circling each other like competitive wrestlers. They reveal themselves by degrees, finally letting each other in on a deep dark secret. The comic highlight is Anderson, wearing ice skates, trying to negotiate the boathouse floor. TALLEY'S FOLLEY -- At the Round House Theater through July 31.