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Curtain Rises: Pennsylvania Playhouse back with ‘Folly’

It’s been more than one year since The Pennsylvania Playhouse has produced a play on its stage.

Rody Gilkeson, Pennsylvania Playhouse Theater Administrator, says the Bethlehem theater is more than ready to open its doors again.

Gilkeson is directing the Playhouse’s first show of 2021, “Talley’s Folly,” which will be presented in-person on stage and as video-on-demand.

Live shows are 7:30 p.m. April 9, 10, 16, 17 and 23, 24; and 3 p.m. April 11, 18 and 25 in the Playhouse, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem. Video-on-demand is available for 48-hour periods between April 9 and 25.

“The Pennsylvania Playhouse is coming back to life,” says Gilkeson.

The last show presented on the Playhouse stage was the Neil Simon comedy, “Biloxi Blues,” in February 2020, shortly before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutdown.

Playhouse officials decided to try a hybrid model for the return to live performances.

“We are only allowed a 25 percent maximum capacity in the theater, but I know people are starting to feel like life is opening up,” Gilkeson says. “So we decided to allow 50 people to come per show.”

Gilkeson says Lanford Wilson’s poignant romantic comedy was chosen because it has a small cast, making it easier for social distancing.

He says everyone in the cast is eager to have people in the seats in the Playhouse again.

“You can’t beat a live audience reaction as an actor,” says Gilkeson.

“We just feel it’s time. We’ve been away too long. But we understand that some people aren’t comfortable yet so we are streaming as well,” Gilkeson says.

Wilson received the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Talley’s Folly,” which is the second in his “Talley Trilogy,” between the plays, “Talley & Son” and “Fifth of July.”

The drama, set in a boathouse near rural Lebanon, Mo., in 1944, follows the characters Matt Friedman and Sally Talley as they settle their feelings for each other.

The play is unlike Wilson’s other works, and is set in 97 minutes of real time, with no set change. The play is one act with no intermission.

After a year of writing letters, Matt (Shaun Hayes) travels from St. Louis to Lebanon to try and convince Sally (Kelly Herbert James) to marry him.

As the two re-examine their relationship, they explore the complexities of human connection and the different forms that a romantic partnership can take.

Hayes is a familiar face to Playhouse theater-goers. He played the blustery Detective Blore in 2019’s “And Then There Were None.” That same year, he played Oberon in the Players of the Stage production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Hayes, a DeSales University graduate, has been seen in productions at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and for DeSales Act 1, including as Bill Sykes in “Oliver!,” Tartuffe in “Tartuffe,” Lloyd in “Noises Off!” and Shackle in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

James also has been performing in the Lehigh Valley for many years. She played Kate in the Playhouse’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” in 2018. Other local credits include roles in productions by Between the Lines Theatre, Allentown Public Theatre, Civic Theatre of Allentown and Northampton Community College’s Directors Showcase. The graduate of The Pennsylvania State University works at DeSales University and is an art instructor in Allentown.

Theater-goers are advised that temperatures will be taken at the door. Anyone with a temperature of more than 100 will be refused admittance. Face masks must be worn at all times. Tickets are being sold as general admission. Ushers will guide patrons to socially-distanced seats. Groups no larger than four can sit together. Groups are to consist of those who live together.

Tickets: www.paplayhouse.org: 610-865-6665

“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and artists who make them happen. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

Kelly Herbert James
Shaun Hayes