UNCW’s theatre department presents the ultimate rom-com ‘Talley’s Folly’


Janet Adamson/ Courtesy of UNCW Dept. of Theatre

Meghan McDonald (left) as Sally Talley and Davis Wood (right) as Matt Friedman.

Emma Smith, Contributing Writer

On Thursday, April 15, the UNCW Theatre Department hosted the opening night of their production, “Talley’s Folly.” Despite a limited in-person audience due to COVID-19 restrictions and a livestream for those who could not attend, the two-person cast has continuously wowed their audiences with their 90-minute rom-com.

“Talley’s Folly” has a unique way of blending fourth wall breaks, confronting the truth and creating a distinctive method of storytelling that reveals more layers within the characters as the show progresses. 

The characters, Matt Friedman, a Jewish middle-aged accountant and Sally Talley, a middle-aged southern liberal black sheep of the family, tell a truthful and raw love story like no other.  Set in 1944 in an old dilapidated and wonderfully constructed boathouse, the Pulitzer Prize-winning show and Broadway production, has sparked the interests of many audience members, bringing them back for more viewings.

The set of Talley’s Folly was constructed by the UNCW theatre department and is a blend of worn-down wood, glass stained windows with wild-growing vines, an old boat and some knickknacks of Sally’s memories. The set was creatively built to make the audience believe they were actually in an old boathouse sitting on the water, accompanied by the evening sounds of cicadas. With captivating lighting and sound design, the crew of this production truly designed a masterpiece to accompany the brilliancy of the acting.

Davis Wood and Meghan McDonald star in the UNCW Department of Theatre’s production of “Talley’s Folly.”
(Courtesy of UNCW Dept. of Theatre)

“There’s a feeling of familiarity within the script that you don’t always experience with larger shows,” said Meghan McDonald, UNCW sophomore and the actress playing Sally Talley. “Because it’s just the two of us, you really get to enjoy every second of the relationship between the characters. In its simplest form, it’s true and pure love.” 

Junior Davis Wood plays the other leading character Matt Friedman and commented on his favorite aspects and moments of the production. While Wood’s character was portrayed the majority of the time as Matt Friedman, he also would also impersonate Sally’s family members with jokingly placed accents.

“I really love doing accents and impressions of people. It was really fun doing those. Whenever I talk about the story of Matt’s life, it was always something to work on. Matt is generally a pretty light guy. If Matt told his story as a jolly guy, it would be different.”  

“Talley’s Folly” is a timepiece that occurs in 1944 in Lebanon, Missouri. Sally and Matt’s characters were both portrayed at the appropriate time, along with a few historical references. McDonald and Wood both had to make adjustments and step into new characters with this production. 

“Since it’s a period piece, I had to do a lot of research on the 1940s to get a better understanding of who Sally is within the confines of her environment,” McDonald stated. “For example, women had very different roles in day-to-day life! It’s a completely different reality from today for most women, so I had to put myself in the mindset of a woman during WWII. I also had to work on physicality, just little things like posture and hand movements add a great deal of realism to the character.”

“This show was definitely different than anything I’ve done,” Wood said. “It’s essentially one scene, I was anxious about not staying in character all at one time. At the end of the day, what saved it was trying to have faith that the lines will come out and trying to listen to what Sally is saying.” 

Director Kindra Steenerson adjusted to the COVID-19 restrictions when directing this show. With barely any physical touch, she guided the actors into alternate improvisations that leave the audience aweing at the longing glances and the rare moments of hand-holding. 

“I really enjoyed blocking this show, which is interesting considering it was one of my concerns going into the process over Zoom,” Steenerson said. “I’m also not a “set it and forget it” kind of director, so the blocking really evolved over time, and the actors were amazing collaborators who were willing to try whatever I threw at them.”

Along with character adjustments, Wood, McDonald, and Steenerson had to cut, improvise and adjust to COVID-19 restrictions onstage. Actors were mandated to wear face shields and had limited physical contact, which knocked any kissing scenes off the table. 

Davis Wood and Meghan McDonald perform a scene together.

“There is a delightful, hard-won kiss at the end that we were not able to do. We changed it to a hand holding moment,” Steenerson said. “The characters are also supposed to share a sip of the hidden booze Sally has, and initially, we thought we might pour separate sips, but we soon realized that the mask would keep them from taking the drink! So, we worked out a bit with the offering of the bottle that coincided with the lines.”

A two-person show can be a different experience from a larger ensemble show for some actors, but others prefer the intimacy and connections of a smaller cast and crew. For McDonald, her first experience with a two-person show challenged her as an actress but ultimately paid off. 

“There was a lot of dialogue for the both of us to learn, but in the end, I’m glad we did it. It’s so intimate and sweet with just the two of us, and there are no distractions from the story of Sally and Matt,” McDonald said.

“There are no gimmicks, no changes of scenery. It’s just the two of them and the boathouse, and I think the simplicity of it all really drives home the naturalistic feel of it all. It’s so easy to fall in love with these characters because they’re all you see for 97 minutes! Although that was part of the challenge: making the audience fall in love with us!”