‘Folly’: Anything is possible when love is the draw

Pulling off an engaging romantic comedy is a challenge, and when it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning two-person play, the stakes are raised even higher. “Talley’s Folly” is a comedy full of empathy and charm and wonderfully acted. It runs through Nov. 8 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

REP Artistic Director David Ellenstein (“Old Wicked Songs,” “The Dresser,” “Tuesdays With Morrie”) takes on two jobs in “Talley’s Folly” as director and the male lead. He also delivers double-the-pleasure, directing with an even hand and bringing Matt Friedman, a Jewish mathematician seeking to marry someone totally different than himself, fully to life before our eyes.

Amy Ashworth Biedel (Old Globe: “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Guys and Dolls”) plays Sally Talley, a nurse’s aide 10 years Matt’s junior. Sally’s wealthy family is traditionally Southern, and although they want her to marry and get out of the house, Matt is off the chart of what they consider a suitable prospect. Her brother has even chased Matt off the property with a shotgun.

The design team - Marty Burnett, set; Jason Bieber, lighting; Jemima Dutra, costume; Chris Luessmann, sound; Annie Bornhurst, props and set dressing; John Finkbinner, scenic artist - has done an incredible job. The stage is transformed into an old Victorian boathouse on the Talley property complete with boating relics, floor boards waiting for an accident to happen, and hidden moonshine.

Matt begins the play as a narrator, setting the scene in a boathouse by mentioning the imaginative river just feet in front of the stage, and the moon peeking in between the worn slats of walls. He also informs the audience the play is a no-holds-barred romance that is meant to be a waltz ... “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3.”

Apparently after the shotgun came out, Matt retreated to the boathouse where Sally rushes in to first yell at Matt for coming there knowing that her family doesn’t like him. Yet as quickly as San Diego’s weather changes, Sally has a change of disposition, and it’s instantly clear she cares deeply for Matt.

The next 97 minutes are spent watching pure magic as two opposite poles come painstakingly together, each one confessing secrets that the other must dance around regarding his/her affections. Matt is the analytical one. He knows Sally loves him, so it seems a simple formula. Sally is more emotional. Her job tending to soldiers wounded both physically and emotionally in the ongoing World War II has left her questioning her own life and feelings.

Both actors excel in their portrayals. Ellenstein delivers Matt’s extensive dialogue in Lanford Wilson’s play with a perfect Jewish inflection. He also artfully accentuates the comedy, such as when he compares Sally’s family members to objects on a relish tray - olive, caviar, etc. Biedel is exceptional at keeping Sally’s will strongly safeguarded inside her folded arms. Yet snippets of her romantic feelings slip while she tries to make Matt understand they are like oil and water.

Can Matt make Sally see the truth in their relationship before he’s ready to throw in the towel?

Ellenstein believes this will be an audience favorite, describing “Talley’s Folly” as “an intimate portrait of two people who have had to deal with some unfortunate things that life has dealt them and is ultimately an uplifting story of people overcoming the odds of life.”

‘Talley’s Folly’

Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 8

Tickets: $30-$47; (858) 481-1055, www.northcoastrep.org


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