The new theater season is under full sail, and the venerable Colonial Players have launched their 51st year with a warm and mellow production of Lanford Wilson's boathouse love story "Talley's Folly."
The two-person show, running just over 90 minutes with no intermission, is Wilson's gentle tale of Matt Friedman, a well-intentioned New York accountant who doggedly pursues a relationship with the neurotically reluctant Sally Talley.
The Annapolis theater-in-the-round provides an intimate environment in which to eavesdrop on Matt and Sally's halting affair.
Dottie Meggers's evocative set represents Sally's decaying boathouse with a little decking, a few scraps of lattice work, a weathered rowboat and a few other well-placed props, supplied by set decorator Audrey Sullivan.
Matt and Sally have come together there on July 4, 1944, where a year earlier they spent a night of passion that Matt hopes to relive and Sally wants to forget.
Matt, 42, a romantic in an accountant's beige suit, has fallen in love for the first time, but Sally, 31, has had enough of hearts and flowers, and plays hard-to-get with a vengeance.
The light drama is set in playwright Wilson's birth town of Lebanon, Mo., where the fictional Talleys have lived for generations.
The boathouse was built by a romantic- and artistic-minded relative in 1870, and underneath her practical temperament, Sally feels it was especially designed for her own destiny.
Wilson's 1979 play is not as clever as his volatile "Fifth of July," but it did manage to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1980. Part of the problem is that the audience doesn't know why Sally is such a cold fish until the very end of the play. That often leaves Matt looking like a desperate stalker and makes Sally seem like a glum party pooper.
But last Saturday's packed house didn't seem to be bothered by that, and showed its enthusiasm with laughter and vigorous applause.
Director Anne M. Ellis, who starred last year as Lizzie Curry in the troupe's creditable production of "The Rainmaker," has guided the emotional roller coaster of Matt and Sally's night of confrontation with a subtle and intelligent hand.
Ellis choose two powerful actors to carry the enormous task of performing the entire show with no break for action--or even a scene change--in its copious dialogue.
Ken Sabel, who also performed in "The Rainmaker," portrays Matt as a likably witty suitor with an easy air.
Occasionally, his character is reminiscent of Thornton Wilder's omniscient stage manager in "Our Town." At other times, he is like a frustrated lover in a Neil Simon comedy.
Susan M. Bell puts up a formidable front as the indomitable Sally.
Bell is so convincing that you sometimes want to help her character shove Matt overboard.
Of course, this is part of the play's flaw, though Bell shows Sally's romantic side occasionally, which helps the audience see that Matt may not be barking up the wrong boathouse.
Part of the power of both actors' performances is their ability to make vivid the imagery in Wilson's dialogue.
They also handle well the playwright's descriptions of other people in the characters' lives, helping the audience to imagine a larger world beyond the Talley boathouse.
Mindy Braden's costumes place the action back in the war-torn '40s, with Sally's simple, flowered house dress and Matt's conservative business suit.
And Brian B. Blanchard's lighting design softens the glow of the Colonial Players' quiet--and pleasant--summer night in the country.
"Talley's Folly" continues through Oct. 2 at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. this Sunday and Sept 26, at the Colonial Players' theater, 108 East St., Annapolis. Tickets are $11, Fridays and Saturdays; $9, Thursdays and Sundays; and $6 for seniors and students on Thursdays and Sundays. Call 410-268-7373 for reservations.