THE BASICS: Lanford Wilson’s one act (97 minutes according to our protagonist, Matt Friedman!) two-hander, a comedy of mismatched lonelyhearts, runs weekends (minus Friday nights) through March 3rd. This Valentine’s Day offering from the JRT (2640 North Forest Road, Getzville) has been directed by Steve Vaughan, and co-stars Anne Roaldi Boucher and Chris J. Handley.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The play takes place one evening at the delapidated old boathouse (read: folly) on the lot of the Talley estate in rural Lebanon, Missouri, in the summer of 1944. Matt Friedman, 42 year-old immigrant and accounting whiz from St Louis, and Sally Talley, thirty-something liberal, black sheep daughter of one of the town’s leading industrialists, met accidentally the summer before, and he was apparently so smitten that he has been writing her, voluminously and unanswered, ever since. Despite frank hostility from the more anti-semitic Talleys, and clear discouragement from Sally herself, Matt decides to pay a surprise visit to the estate, in hopes of rekindling their romance and “sealing the deal”.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: Amazing as it may seem, Wilson’s play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1980. I don’t know; perhaps there was very little competition that year. Not that it’s a bad play, mind you; it’s sweet and sprightly, with lots of good banter, and flirts with serious issues now and again. But, all told, it’s a pretty simple thing: man pursues (doggedly), woman resists, woman resists, woman resists, both divulge basic info that they have kept from one another, woman gives in. Heck, this probably would be good dinner theater.
Even after a single listening, it’s clear that Wilson knows how to write flavorful Jewish-speak, replete with sacasm and self-deprecation. And actor Handley puts it over well. Except for some disturbing high cackles that I believe are supposed to be expressions of laughter.
Ms Roaldi Boucher, boxed in by the endless hostility she is required to unleash, does reward us with some fine, affecting heartbreak before the close.
Why do these two like one another, anyway? Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. They are both lonely and liberal, true, but is that enough?
Why do these two like one another, anyway? Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. They are both lonely and liberal, true, but is that enough? It seems that, before the night of the play, they had shared almost none of the vital stuff that makes them the individuals they are. I wish I could say that I sensed an underlying deep attraction between them during all of the verbal sparring, but I didn’t. The Happy Ending is too fast, and not all that convincing…
The big star of this production is David Dwyer, who’s tumble-down boathouse set is just the ticket. Would that it had been lighted a little more atmospherically by veteran Brian Cavanaugh.
Director Vaughan kept things nipping along, and happily provides a little leavening action here and there. If the play didn’t clock in at 97 minutes exactly, it was close.
IN SUM: A pretty darn good production of a pleasant, overpraised play. You could certainly do worse this Valentine’s Day.
Photos courtesy Jewish Repertory Theatre of Western New York
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!