An Unlikely Duo Finds Love in Lebanon


For part three of its landmark season, Theatre Ariel is eschewing its usual predilection for new works in favor of one of the most lauded one-act plays of the 20th century.

The region’s only Jewish theater company ( continues to celebrate its 25th anniversary with Talley’s Folly, the award-winning play by American playwright Lanford Wilson, taking place at several locations along the Main Line on Feb. 6, 7, 13 and 14.
This salon only features two actors, Jenna Horton and Seth Reichgott, who play Sally Talley and Matt Friedman, respectively, in an intimate dramatic reading of the play.
The setting is Lebanon, Mo., in 1944 and follows the love story of Friedman, a 44-year-old German Jewish immigrant living in St. Louis, and Talley, a local 31-year-old Methodist nurse’s aide.
Friedman and Talley meet one summer and become smitten with one another. A year later, Friedman returns to Lebanon to ask Talley to marry him.
“The two characters are two people who are not likely to have met and fallen in love with each other,” said Deborah Baer Mozes, founding artistic director of Theatre Ariel.
Wilson wrote Talley’s Folly in 1979. The following year, the play, which unfolds in real time over 97 minutes, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play, among other awards and nominations.
Wilson was born in Lebanon, but spent most of his life in cities like Chicago and New York City.
Like the fictional Talley, the Lebanon of Wilson’s youth was not the most ideal milieu to make the acquaintance of a Jewish person.
“Growing upf, there were no Jews there, and from my research it looks like there might not be any Jews there still to this day,” Mozes added.
The play also examines the role of women during that time period and the role women play in marriage.
“It is written by one of the most important contemporary American playwrights,” Mozes said. “It’s a play that’s by a non-Jew set in a very non-Jewish setting, but is really reflective of those parts of American values and ethics that have made us as American Jews very much at home and able to embrace and become Americans and be a part of this nation.”
But Mozes said the play is full of Jewish values.
“It’s very much a Jewish play in that it’s a play that questions values, ethics, morals, what is our role society and how that impacts us in making family,” she noted, adding that Wilson “clearly knows Matt Friedman. You would recognize Matt Friedman. He’s a German Jewish refugee who came after World War I and settled in St. Louis. Unlike Lebanon, Mo., St. Louis at that time — and to this day — has a big, vibrant Jewish community.”
These overlaps of Jewish values that parallel modern-day life are what drew Mozes to the play. She said it is packed with incredible lenses to look through and analyze that time period and reflect on 2016 as Jewish Americans.
“I felt like a lot of what Matt Friedman and Sally Talley say about the world are things we need to listen to even today,” she said.
Although most of Theatre Ariel’s productions are small or new plays, Mozes chose this well-known work because she believes it will resonate with her audience.
“I made a really conscious decision for our 25th anniversary to use this as a time to sort of expand the mission in a way,” she said. “For most of our history, 99 percent of what we have produced are new or nearly new works, with an occasional classic.”
Theatre Ariel productions are dramatic readings staged in intimate settings, and the intimacy of just two characters performing correlated with that, Mozes added.
There’s a scene in the play where Friedman tells Talley that people are like eggs, “and that image is very moving and very powerful because an egg has this shell, which is seemingly hard but is also really easily cracked, and when it’s cracked the insides spill out,” Mozes explained. “There’s something very fragile about an egg, and this play is very fragile and beautiful. It’s a perfect piece for the intimacy of the salon.”
Horton added that both Friedman and Talley are outsiders within their own communities and behave as lone wolves.
She said she herself relates to Talley because she has also felt like an outsider at times in her life.
“[Talley’s] sort of ostracized herself within that really tight-knit community,” she said. “And no one in Lebanon, Mo. has ever seen a Jew, so [Friedman’s] enough of an outsider.
“I identify in a certain kind of way because I do think that I always felt like a little bit of an outsider being in high school. I never liked being part of a group too much or things that get too small-minded because without a really rich community, which I found in later years, that there’s a certain kind of preference for being alone. So in many ways, I feel like I had a little bit of a connection to Sally.”
Horton, like her character, is also not Jewish.
She said Talley is a very curious character who’s a bit of  “a hard egg to crack,” which makes the role — and the play — more dynamic.
“I just think it’s really remarkable that any time people are from two really different places — culturally, religiously — when they meet, it’s a pretty clear thing that backgrounds are important and significant in informing who we are,” she said. “But that doesn’t really have a bearing on love.”
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