The unlikely courtship by a Lithuanian Jew (by way of New York City) of a Protestant young woman from a conservative Missouri family is the premise of Lanford Wilson’s 1980 valentine, Talley’s Folly. The play, a 97 minute two-hander, has been given a warm, tender and mostly (and when appropriate) funny revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company, in their off-Broadway but midtown Laura Pels space. In this first New York revival since the play’s debut, Danny Burstein takes up the mantle of Matt Friedman (the role originally created by Judd Hirsch) and delivers what may be the crowning achievement of a steadily climbing career, because it’s the synthesis of all his colors and range. Matt not only pursues the girl in an “alien land” (manifested in the set: a dilapidated boathouse) but narrates, juggling a keen awareness of theatrical artifice with a firm belief in the reality of his mission; it’s one of those intensely difficult tour de force roles that succeeds only when the performer makes it seem easy. Mr. Burstein makes it seems (as he himself might say) “like buttah.” Sarah Paulsen as Sally has the nearly-as-difficult role of foil, hers the balancing act of being compelling, even alluring, while at the same time putting up a wall of resistance. It’s impossible for an actress in this play to be the equal of her Matt in terms of virtuosity; the play simply isn’t written that way; the best one can do is hold her own and provide Matt a challenge worthy of his evening’s efforts. And that Ms. Paulsen does handily. The play’s return is a sweet and welcome one.
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