What a technical delight. Jeffrey Schmidt directed as well as designed set and sound for Theatre Three’s current production of Lanford Wilson’s 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Talley’s Folly. His creative juices and resourcefulness shine in assembling the derelict boathouse set for the play. It’s simple and effective–all elements recyclable, re-used lumber, found objects, masses and strips of paper, crumpled up old show posters. The diverse elements seem incongruous, yet the finished design exudes the tangible ambience of a formerly elegant, now derelict, shanty on the edge of a swamp. Easy to picture the mosquitoes that must breed and swarm there, the nests of poisonous snakes that lurk under its disintegrating pilings. Wilson’s quirky WWII romance soars with lyrical flights of language and imagery that dive off into unexpected turns of phrase and reflection. Director Schmidt’s inventive, innovative set couldn’t be more appropriate for this play, with his sound design and Amanda West’s moonlight-washed lighting design intensifying its impact.
Unfortunately, the acting does not follow suit. This play is basically one long lover’s spat, with the inevitable peaks and valleys of communication that a spat entails. Chuck Huber as oddball suitor Matt demonstrates intriguing potential in his opening monologue, which curiously loops back upon itself for self-examination and pulls the audience in close. Huber understands how to utilize a script to reveal subtext, the power of silence, and how decisive movement can inform a character like no words ever can. But from the moment Shauna McLean baldly shouts her entrance as Sally, all possibility of nuanced performance or interaction dissipates like the morning mist around the boathouse. Hers is a stressful, unconvincing performance. She appears to have been given a single stage direction, “Enunciate clearly and speak loudly. VERY loudly.” She grimaces and yells, which doesn’t give Huber’s Matt much of a place to go, much less the evolving love affair any basis for credibility. Nobody yells his/her way into a love affair.
Two issues here: first, fine that Theatre Three does not mike its actors. Teach the actors how to project properly so a whisper can be heard and understood as well as a shout. McLean’s voice must be pretty hoarse after each performance. Second, Huber’s character Matt gets irrationally agitated numerous times, which should physically threaten Sally. McLean delivers her lines that she’s leaving but makes next to no effort to do so, in spite of Huber not blocking her avenue of escape, in spite of him behaving threateningly. She seems to shrug his emotional explosions off, hardly notice them? The culminating kiss at play’s conclusion looks out of place, does not reflect mature acceptance of love’s power. It doesn’t make logical sense. Huber and McLean look attractive together as Matt and Sally; but with her strained delivery, lack of subtle expression or appropriate physical response, there is little believable chemistry generated. It’s a poignant, intriguing play with abundant emotional content and a romantic setting to die for. Too bad it suffers the misfortune of early demise in this particular realization.
Talley’s Folly runs through December 20 at Theatre Three. Tickets and Reservations: Theatre Three’s Box Office at 214-871-3300, option 1 or www.theatre3dallas.com
Photo Credit: Ken Birdsell
L-R: Shauna McLean, Chuck Huber