Keith Stevens as Matt Friedman and Shani Ferry as Sally Talley PHOTO | Bruce Ford

‘Talley’s Folly’ given a tender rendering at Actors’ Summit

By Bob Abelman

Ohio-born, Catholic-raised, Actors’ Summit-based Keith Stevens sure makes a convincing Latvian Jew.

He does so in Lanford Wilson’s romantic comedy “Talley’s Folly,” which invites us to eavesdrop on the courtship between two thoroughly mismatched but magnetically drawn soulmates at a boathouse in rural Missouri in 1944.

The play begins with Stevens, who was born in Fairview Park and lives in North Olmsted, as 42-year-old Matt Friedman, directly addressing the audience and confiding in his plans for the evening’s entertainment. “If everything goes well for me tonight,” he says, “this should be a waltz … a no-holds-barred romantic story.”

Stevens delivers this and all of Matt’s well-structured sentences with their multisyllabic reader’s vocabulary with the Talmudic singsong cadence, over-articulation and assertiveness of an orthodox emigre. He adds to the mix the immediately ingratiating manner of a gentle man who is scarred by a traumatic past, living in a very lonely present, and in desperate need of a more pleasant, promising future.

That future is in the arms of Sally Talley, a wealthy “old maid” daughter of a bigoted Protestant textile mill owner. Sally, played with just the right touch of southern gentility and damaged-goods defensiveness by Shani Ferry, is also scarred by a traumatic past and in desperate need to break away from the toxicity of her home on the hill. But she is not at all sure if this “communist infidel” — her father’s words, not hers — or any man is her way out.

“Talley’s Folly” — the second of Wilson’s trilogy (“Fifth of July” and “Talley & Son”) about the Talley Family — won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, so there is no doubt that this deceptively simple story is a complex, brilliantly told piece of work. The challenge facing any performance of it is doing the foreshadowed waltz with grace and conviction.

Actually, there are several dances performed in this play. There’s the one between Matt’s immense insecurities of being an immigrant Jew during WWII and his air of confidence. There’s the one between Sally’s attraction to Matt and her driving ambivalence. And, of course, there’s the push/pull that is at the heart of their relationship, grounded in his romantic tendencies and her pragmatic nature.

Do each of the actors perform their internal dance well? Yes they do.

Is the waltz between them performed with grace and conviction? So much so that you can mark the transformation from their early, awkward exchanges to the one-two-three rhythm that closes the show, facilitated in no small part by Kevin P. Kern’s sensitive-to-the-touch direction.

This production is absolutely lovely. So is Perry Catalano and Fred Seller’s construction of the well-worn boathouse exterior in which the entire play takes place. CV

On stage

WHAT: “Talley’s Folly”

WHERE: Actors’ Summit, 103 S. High Street, Akron

WHEN: Through May 1

TICKETS & INFO: $10-$33, call 330-374-7568 or visit

Bob Abelman covers theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on April 18, 2016.

Lead image: Keith Stevens as Matt Friedman and Shani Ferry as Sally Talley PHOTO | Bruce Ford