Actress Margot White says she’s a good forgetter.
“I’m one of those people, after a show closes, I’m lucky if I can remember my character’s name, let alone any of the lines,” White says. “Getting back into this play, it’s surprising to me how many of the lines I do remember.”
“This play” is “Talley’s Folly,” Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning romantic comedy set in a neglected Missouri boathouse in 1944. It opens April 28 at Briarcliff’s Hudson Stage Company, starring White and Danton Stone, directed by Dan Foster.
“Talley’s Folly” is about Matt Friedman, a Jewish accountant from St. Louis, who relentlessly pursues Sally Talley, the daughter of a prominent Missouri family. Over the course of the show’s intermissionless 97 minutes — that’s how long Matt says it should take to tell the story — secrets are revealed.
White portrayed Sally — opposite Richard Schiff, of “The West Wing” fame — in an acclaimed 2008 McCarter Theater production directed by Marshall Mason, who directed the 1980 Broadway production starring Judd Hirsh and Trish Hawkins.
(Schiff was to come to Broadway in the role last spring, with Robin Wright as Sally, but Wright withdrew and the revival stalled.)
While some might consider it a good thing to remember every line and turn of phrase, White explains that tackling the role again means starting from scratch in a way, discovering different ways to say the same lines, new meanings.
“The only other role I’ve done again is Juliet,” she says. “I’ve played her four times, but it’s always been in a different setting. In one ‘R&J,’ I was wearing blue vinyl, another was classic, another one we were in pajamas and barefoot.
“This is the first reprisal I’ve had where the story is the same and the setting is the same. It’s nice to come back to it with a knowledge base, but also an open slate, like ‘OK, what are some new choices that can be made?’ And Dan has been helpful encouraging different options.”
Sally arrives at the boathouse (which is spectacularly festooned with all sorts of architectural adornments, but now shows the signs of neglect) bent on being fair but firm, letting Matt down easy but making sure that he leaves.
A year earlier, they had had a whirlwind encounter that ended poorly.
Seen through a contemporary lens, Matt’s pursuit of Sally — a year of almost-daily letters, a visit to the hospital where she tends to wounded veterans, and showing up at the family homestead on the Fourth of July, a foreigner intruding on Talley land on the most American of holidays — might seem like grounds for a restraining order, but Stone, who plays Matt, says that Wilson is clear that “this is a guy with only the best of intentions.”
These are people with secrets, some small and some made larger by their being shared with no one.
“They’re desperate and it’s not necessarily visible to the people they work with or the people they live with,” Stone says. “They’re privately desperate to change their lives. This is Matt’s day to declare himself and put everything on the table and win or lose.”
Faced with an unrelenting suitor, White says “one of the traps of the play is that Sally is really ornery and can come across as angry, but I think it’s more an exasperation with the circumstances and a fear of committing to the love.”
Director Foster sees Sally as gun shy, the victim of many disappointments.
“They have been apart for a year and in that time, if they’re each holding one big secret — and I try not to make it a play about secrets — we build up in our minds how big those obstacles are,” he says. “But when you’re with the right person and you can release that secret, it’s like, ‘Boy, it wasn’t such a big thing.’”
These characters may be lonely, but they’re not alone, Stone says.
“They’re both outsiders, they’re both truth tellers,” he says. “Because of where Matt came from and the way he lived, Matt saw the way the world worked in a really harsh way and it made him look close and hard at everything. And he uses his good brain and a good heart and he sees and he feels the world. But it has made him alone. He meets Sally and even though she’s a completely different person, she’s the same. Where she is, she’s as outside as he is.”
“I think they complement each other,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of people I can talk with in this small town, particularly my family. She’s definitely the black sheep and has forthright ideas and I think she really enjoys the repartee.
“As contentious as it seems, I think that’s where the attraction lies. We can challenge each other: ‘You can’t get away with stuff because I’m going to call you on it.’ And he hopes I call him on it. There’s a really exciting volley going on.”
Each volley brings them closer, Foster says.
“What guides these two along the way is the discovery, to the point of trust,” he says.
‘Talley’s Folly,’ a Hudson Stage Co. production at Woodward Hall Theater, 235 Elm Road, Briarcliff Manor. Preview 8 p.m. April 27. Opens April 28, with performances at 8 p.m. April 28, May 4, 5, 11 and 12, and at 3 p.m. April 29, May 6 and 12. $35, $30 for students and seniors. Call Smartix at 877-238-5596. Details at 914-271-2811. Check out the Hudson Stage Company website. http://www.hudsonstage.com
Photo by Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News: Danton Stone who plays Matt Friedman and Margot White who plays Sally Talley rehearse scenes from Hudson Stage Company’s production of “Talley’s Folly” in a Manhattan rehearsal studio.