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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Foment of ‘Talley’s Folly’ a pinnacle at Door County theater

Critic At Large

Peninsula Players Theatre

Sean Fortunato and Linda Fortunato star in the Peninsula Players production of “Talley’s Folly.” (Len Villano)

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Matthew Friedman takes on the odds full face. His life is a case of the odds being stacked against him. He has come to an unfriendly place that is home to a ray of hope, a woman of whom he seeks an answer – “Yes” or “No.”

How difficult the answer is to get is the crux of “Talley’s Folly,” a high-level play in a high-level production that is placing Peninsula Players Theatre on a pinnacle.

Matthew Friedman, the person, is a high-wire act. He has seen the worst of humanity in a confluence of ugliness in Europe surrounding World War I. Survival has forged him into a steely being. It’s 1944, and the world is again in turmoil, as is he. That woman has a hold on his mind, and that mind is spectacular.

Matthew Friedman, the theater role, is a high-wire act. In the two-character play, the role is a dam burst of thought and feeling and emotion and agonies and conundrums and expression and appreciation and anger and intelligence and conflict and humor and mysteries. Playwright Lanford Wilson had a whole lot bottled up in him when he sat down and let Matthew Friedman gush, sweeping Sally Talley into the momentum of the raging water.

Sean Fortunato and Linda Fortunato turn in terrific performances as Matthew and Sally. Sensational.

Director David New has them cranked up to “High” on the performance meter.

Another character, the set, says nothing but speaks volumes physically and symbolically – notably about wealth and decay.

The play is about two people from different backgrounds who connected in the recent past. Now the man seeks permanence. Religion, family background and mysteries are just three of the matters at hand.

In a normal time, I believe Peninsula Players Theatre would not present “Talley’s Folly.” Too dense, too talky, too heavy, too non-commercial, too… too – that kind of thing. But this is not a normal time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the theater wants to come out of the still-restricted situation and, like Matthew Friedman, make statements. One statement is, “We are.” In unspoken ways, the production says, “We are a formidable theater. We do things on stage at a high professional level.” Also, I think the theater wanted to put its artistic-director-in-waiting out front. When the venerable Greg Vinkler retires after this season, Linda Fortunato will take the reins. Seeing her acting talent as Sally Talley is a kind of assurance of where the theater is headed.

Tuesday’s opening night performance was sold out. The phrase has a different meaning because capacity is one-third the 621-seat house. The sellout was 202 seats.

Lingering COVID-19 concerns means the 86th season of Peninsula Players Theatre is shortened to two small-cast plays. But the theater’s atmosphere is still there – the garden-y grounds, sunsets on the bay, the comfy aura. “Talley’s Folly” fits in in an artistic way.

The production opens impressively. The arriving audience has looked at the involving set work – a kind gazebo, a kind of shed, docks on a river and an old rowboat, with everything in disintegration – and the lights go down. Suddenly, Sean Fortunato is there in bright light, and boom, he takes off in super-complex verbiage to start an amazing performance.

***

Creative: Playwright – Lanford Wilson; director – David New; scenic design – Jack Magaw; costume designer – Aldan Sylvius-Down; lighting designer – Stephen Roy White; sound designer – Joe Court; scenic artist – Jessie Howe; stage manager – Kaitlin Kitzmiller; assistant stage manager – Kimberly Ann McCann; production manager – Cody Westgaard; artistic director – Greg Vinkler; associate artistic director – Linda Fortunato; general director – Brian Kelsey

Cast:

Matt Friedman – Sean Fortunato

Sally Talley – Linda Fortunato

Running time: 96  minutes

Remaining performances: To Aug. 15: 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays

Info: peninsulaplayers.com

***

NEXT: “Romance in D” by James Sherman, Aug. 24-Sept. 19.

THE VENUE: The location of Peninsula Players Theatre’s Theatre in a Garden is about atmosphere – tall cedars and pines and shoreline vistas along the bay of Green Bay. The theater house is part of a campus that includes a workshop, office, rehearsal hall, dining hall, housing and more at 4351 Peninsula Players Road. Flowers and other decorative foliage grace footpaths that weave through the grounds, which have been extended to the south. Driving along Peninsula Players Road and passing farms and trees, the thought may occur: “This theater is in an unusual place.” The 621-seat theater house features Door County limestone in its interior décor. When the weather is friendly, the wooden slats of the side walls are rolled open to the outside. For cool fall nights, the theater floor is equipped with radiant heating for comfort. While the company dates back to 1935 years, the theater building is of 2006 vintage. The playhouse and theater were built on the site of the previous structure, which got wobbly with age. The location on the shores of Green Bay provides playgoers with pre-show gatherings and viewing the sunset. Here’s a theatrical rarity: The Players’ website provides sunset times.

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