Fringe Theater welcomes the start of season - A couple of people posing for the camera - Lanford Wilson
The company of ‘Talley’s Folly,’ presented by Fringe Theater, features, from left, Ross Pipkin, Director Mathias Maloff and Lauren Thompson. FRINGE THEATER/Contributed

The term “community theater” has, over the years, inherited a connotation of provinciality. It’s generally spoken with a sneer of condescension. And that’s unfortunate. Communities across the country produce great little gems of theater, pieces that rely on community members and the skills of local creatives. In Key West, Fringe Theater has mastered this art. While the company regularly pulls in national artists, it also has developed an impressive troupe of local talent. Their latest production, “Talley’s Folly,” showcases a wealth of homegrown creative capacity. From set to stage, the entirely Key West-based crew has crafted the kind of intimate, charming work that can only come from teams whose members know each other well enough to be able to swirl around one another as they build, argue, compromise and create. 

“Talley’s Folly” is the middle piece of a trilogy by Lanford Wilson, but stands on its own. A romantic comedy, the play follows Matt Friedman and Sally Talley, two mismatched potential partners, as they banter over the course of a real-time 97-minute conversation. The smitten (and relentlessly optimistic) Friedman has returned to the Ozarks after meeting Talley the previous summer and hopes to rekindle a spark that may or may not have appeared in the first place. “Talley’s Folly” was originally staged at the Circle Repertory Company in 1979, winning the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It then went on to Broadway, where it ran for 286 performances. The play then lay dormant until an Off-Broadway revival pitted Sarah Paulson against Denny Burnstein. 

The small, tight piece is a great selection for Fringe — intimate enough to fit into a smaller space without feeling claustrophobic, but broad enough to touch on concepts of human interaction and vulnerability. To recreate the atmosphere of the original piece, set in a Missouri boathouse in the 1940s, the long-time constructive dream team of Don Lynch, Jim Beyl and Charlie Bengal crafted a spot-on creaky-floored set complete with all the necessary nautical trappings and cast-off nostalgia. Scenic artist Monica Brook and lighting designers Kendall Cameron, Daashia Cochrin, Jerry Ginsberg and Aramis Ikatu complete the look with warm washes and cool, moody moonlight. 

As leads Friedman and Talley, Ross Pipkin and Lauren Thompson navigate a relationship that begins as a prickly affair before veering into more companionable territory. Pipkin brings humor to the role, engaging directly with the audience at the start of the play and then holding attention throughout. Thompson provides a sharp counterweight, bringing a healthy dose of sharp wit and skepticism to the role of Sally Talley. 

Drawing from a well of local talent also allows companies, like Fringe, to take chances on newcomers. Such is the case with “Talley’s Folly,” which also serves as the directorial debut for Mathias Maloff, who delivers a steady-handed presentation of the material buoyed by humor and ambiance.

“Talley’s Folly” is a conventional piece, a straightforward representation of the moment two people come together. It shows some trappings of the era in which it was written, but overall, steers clear of oversentimentality. I personally — in spite of my calcified feminist cynicism — still found myself rooting for the lovable Friedman. The actors, and overall production, are solid enough to create a space in which a sweet, intimate story is perfectly satisfying. Bravo to local (and dare I say community?) creativity.

‘Talley’s Folly’
Jan. 8-18
Shows at 7 p.m.
Back Room at the Key West Theater
512 Eaton St.

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