Love's a bitch, ain't it? You search for it, you can't find it anywhere, and then, when you're ready to give up and invest in a truckload of romance novels or join the Inflatable Doll of the Month Club, love sometimes whomps you upside the head from the least predictable direction. Let's face it, the chemistry of interpersonal attraction is impenetrable and confounding, often leading two very unlike people to hook up. From left-wing James Carville and his rabidly conservative wife Mary Matalin to voluminous-reader Laura and her flashcard-challenged husband George W., the couplings of people can be mystifying. And as puzzling as love is in real life, it's even harder to portray convincingly onstage.
But it can be done. Lanford Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for Talley's Folly, a love dance between Matt Friedman, a fortyish Jewish immigrant accountant, and Sally Talley, a 31-year-old southern WASP from a wealthy family in Lebanon, Missouri, circa 1944. This one-act waltz of differences (Sally's family is largely anti-Semitic) and similarities (Matt and Sally are both politically liberal and pro-union) touches on many aspects of one love conundrum. And while this Lakeland Theatre production has its high points, it ultimately fails to capture the special magic that Wilson intended.
Folly is a challenging and very talky two-character piece, requiring exceptional performances for us to get involved with these two fragile folks and their undeniable attraction to each other. Brian Zoldessy is a treat as the energetically neurotic Matt, who has shown up at the Talley estate -- in particular, at their rundown boathouse (also known as a "folly" in local slang) -- so that he can pursue the momentary love connection he and Sally had made the summer before. Starting with his humorous address to the audience and extending through a roller coaster of bad jokes, corny impressions, flirtatious gestures, and tormented revelations, Zoldessy skillfully crafts Matt into a beguiling fellow. The role of Sally is less showy and more difficult, calling on her to push Matt away even as she's attracted to his intellect and wit. Kellie McIvor as Sally handles the laugh lines well (admitting to Matt that "You're very exotic to me -- I even reread the Old Testament!"), but she never completely blends the opposing forces of Sally's personality into a believable whole.
There's plenty of opportunity for fireworks, as Matt and Sally share secrets that have contributed to each one's single and somewhat isolated status in life. Unfortunately, this volatile material never quite ignites under the compassionate but overly cushioned direction of Greg Violand. By implementing some posed, musical comedy-style blocking, Violand doesn't help his two actors interact as well as they might. In one intense scene, when Matt shares his family's tragic history, Sally is standing behind him, touching his shoulder -- never able to make eye contact that could have helped the two create a more profound bond. This lack of electricity between Matt and Sally renders the ending less like a shared victory over immense odds than a strangely resigned choice.