‘Talley’s Folly’ is first-rate

“Talley’s Folly” is 127 minutes.

How do we know this? The lead character, Matt Friedman, played by Ian Foster, comes out and tells this to the audience in the opening scene. He also tells the audience there is no intermission. He even repeats this, though much faster than he said it the first time.

What he doesn’t tell the audience is they need to watch and listen to the subtleties of the body language and the verbal language of the two people on stage throughout this play — Foster and Nicole Cowan, who plays Sally Talley.

If you pay attention, if you follow the flow between these two, you will be rewarded.

The Kauai Community Player’s production, directed by Nellie Foster and written by Lanford Wilson, presents extraordinary challenges for both actors. There are no scene changes, no lavish costumes or designs, no booming background music. And not even an intermission, as already mentioned.

What we have are two people having a sometimes tense, sometimes humorous, sometimes mundane, sometimes touching, conversation about their lives and, ultimately, their love for each other. Now that might not sound very interesting to the casual theater goer who prefers a little more action and suspense and obvious jokes (and there are darn funny jokes). But it works here, for three reasons: Ian Foster, Cowan and Nellie Foster.

Nellie Foster played the role of Sally Talley 30 years ago. She was pregnant with Ian Foster at the time.

The play is set in 1944. It is quietly effective in sharing the connection between Sally and Matt. They met a year ago, had a romantic evening, but because they live in different cities, don’t stay connected. But Matt writes letters, perseveres and finally goes to see her.

Their feelings come across not just in words, but in looks, in a touch, in movements. One learns, as the story unfolds, how they came to meet and where their relationship stands. Early on, it seems unlikely they can overcome their differences in age, temperament, outlook on life. It’s uncertain how this is going to end, until the end, as it should be in a well-told story like this one.

Ian Foster, wearing a wig and some extra padding under his vintage suit, delivers a brilliant performance, start to finish. Playing a 42-year-old Jewish accountant, he is excellent with numbers, as he demonstrates. He is logical but playful, as the ice skates can attest. He has never married, but he is a man of strong emotion and determination that keeps him on track toward his goal of winning Talley’s heart, even when she pushes him away early.

A tip: He delivers many winning, witty lines, so well, in fact, they sometimes slip by the audience. Listen closely for the Humpty-Dumpty complex and a line about reading the Old Testament.

Cowan plays a woman who we learn is over 30 years old, still not married and lives with her family. It is not exactly the life she hoped for. A failed relationship has made her afraid of trying again. This role demands range, and she shows it — despair, disappointment, anger, hope and, finally, love.

Nellie Foster doesn’t over direct this one. Nothing complicated here. No tricks. No surprises. She lets the characters and their conversation take the spotlight for 127 minutes. She lets the story, in a way, tell itself. She keeps it moving toward the ending we’re all hoping for.

It works.

There is still time to see this play, but not much.

“Talley’s Folly” is set for tonight at 7 at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse and the final show is 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 at kauaicommunityplayers.org.

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