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On Stage: Quirky romantic comedy benefits from strong performances

"Talley's Folley" won Pulitzer Prize for author Lanford Wilson
Jaclyn Robertson and Adam Ressa perform in Nova Nightsky Theater's production of "Talley's Folly."

The intimate second-story rehearsal-cum-performance space of Nova Nightsky Theater wouldn’t work for, say, adaptations of sprawling Broadway musicals the likes of “42nd Street” or “A Chorus Line.”

But it has provided a very effective setting for the troupe’s latest production, Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning romantic outing “Talley’s Folly.”

While many theater troupes might shy away from a production with just two characters that plays out, intermission-free, in real time, “we thought this beautiful love story would work very well” in the space, said Jaclyn Robertson, the troupe’s cofounder and producing director.

Set on Independence Day 1944 in rural Missouri, the area from which the playwright sprang, “Talley’s Folly” (“folly” in this instance being a synonym for boathouse) plays out over the course a single act of 97 minutes. A theatrical pas-de-deux, it explore the past, present and (potential) future relations between two approaching-middle-aged – and culturally very different – characters as they sort out whether they really are meant for each other.

Sally is a 31-year-old nurse’s aide serving soldiers wounded in the war; Matthew a 42-year-old accountant who seems to have a radical streak. Both harbor secrets, and while I bet you think you’ve figured them out as the story unfolds, you probably will be wrong. I certainly was.

Robertson as Sally and Adam Ressa (also design and technical director) as Matthew were strong in the challenging roles. The audience found itself intrigued, rooting for them at some points and against them at others, and being surprised as their back stories emerged.

(Mentioned but otherwise unseen and unheard are the activities transpiring at Sally’s nearby home, where her relationship with the Jewish Matthew was seen by most of her conservative Protestant family as decidedly unwelcome. Lanford covered that side of the story in his play “Talley & Son.”)

Roberston and Ressa worked with artistic director Ward Kay and stage manager Sarah Backzewski on the technical elements of the production, which provided a fitting backdrop to the tale being told.

Nova Nightsky Theater got its start in the early days of COVID, initially performing outdoors – a tradition it will continue with its next outing, the farce “Holy Toledo” by Paul Langford, to be presented over the summer at a Vienna church.

As a relatively young troupe, it’s working hard to win over audiences. The free snacks proved an added attraction – indeed! – but productions as solid as its current one will be the most important factor in building an appreciative audience.

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“Talley’s Folly” continues through April 23 with performances at 1057 West Broad St., #216. Tickets are $25.

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