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Talley's Folly proves Bloomington's got serious theater game

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Be on notice: Bloomington is stepping up its theatrical game.

Artistry, the airily rebranded producing organization based at the imposing Bloomington Center for the Arts, has hired Benjamin McGovern (a former associate director of studio programming at the Guthrie) as its producing artistic director. Talley's Folly opens the first season McGovern has curated, and begins an impressive parade of talent set to appear on the venue's two stages.

In this case that means director Angela Timberman (well known as an actress who, among many other roles, does yeoman's work with the part of Merriweather in the Guthrie's Christmas Carol) and a production team including scenic designer Joel Sass (long associated with the Jungle Theater) and lighting designer Mary Shabatura (Dark & Stormy Productions).

Talley's Folly is a one-act, 97-minute (a character actually clocks it) show that won a 1980 Pulitzer for playwright Lanford Wilson. It's expertly constructed — if anything, too expert for its own good, as it becomes clear that there are a couple of Big Reveals the characters are working their way up to. If you don't suspect the details are eventually going to come bursting out in emotional apotheoses, I have some seaside real estate in Missouri to sell you.

That's where we are in Talley's Folly: Lebanon, Missouri, home of the 30-something Sally Talley (Chelsie Newhard) and her family's literal folly: a fancy boathouse, where we spend the play's duration. It's 1944, and Sally's reluctantly welcoming Matthew Friedman (David Beukema), a St. Louis man a decade her senior, whose romantic intentions have been clear (from a distance) since the two met a year ago.

The two characters are divided by religion (Matthew is Jewish, the Talleys are Christian) — but that's just one of the challenges this budding romance faces. The characters slowly circle around the elephant in the boathouse: the fact that they're both still single in an era when it was routine to wed in your early 20s.

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Matthew is a real talker, joking and telling stories to break the tension surrounding his reunion with Sally. You'll best enjoy Talley's Folly if you're willing to settle in and let the elliptical dialogue take its course. The two actors have an easy chemistry; we readily see how sparks flew between them, and root for it to happen again. (It's an uncomfortable fact, though, that multiple times in the course of the play, Matthew resorts to physical manhandling.)

The show's production design is a feast. Sass has turned Bloomington's Black Box Theater into a quiet cove on a bucolic lake, with the eccentric boathouse rising up before us as crickets chirp in the trees and waves lap at our feet (thanks to sound designer Katharine Horowitz). The production's close attention to detail pays off in the show's tight quarters; while the script may beggar belief, the setting never does.

Talley's Folly

Artistry at Bloomington Center for the Arts

1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington

952-563-8575