The Art of Subtext
My most recent assistant directing project, Talley's Folly, enters its final weekend tomorrow. The script and the story are a doozy - the playwright Lanford Wilson won a Pulitzer in 1980 for his work - and it opens the perfect door to talk about the conversations that we don't have.
Subtext is so incredibly crucial to how we operate as people - what we say, what we choose not to say, the glance we give that one other person in the room as if we were looking into the camera on The Office. This show masterfully plays with the element of the unknown - and, scarier than that, the truths we think people may know that we ourselves did not tell them.
Sally Talley and Matt Friedman dance around their feelings and their pasts all throughout their time in the boathouse - and, somehow, the moments of vulnerability are also their moments of the deepest miscommunication. Most people would point to one of Ibsen's plays for a masterclass on subtext. I would like to point to one Missouri woman: Sally Talley.
Sally clearly displays that, as an actor, the art of subtexts has to come from the mastery of given circumstances. This woman has experienced extreme trauma and objectification, and cannot even recognize the callous built until she has to reckon with Matt Friedman. This understanding of her hurt, her pain, and what she actual wants versus what she believes she's allowed to have, and the layers of her subconscious in this way, are what make this show good. Without it, we received a story of coercion, of a woman not wanting and being forced into something. Truthfully, though, Wilson has weaved a narrative of a woman fighting to understand if she's worth more than what her family has led her to believe.
Our production's Sally Emily Rieder has been an absolute joy to work with, to watch wrestle with the layers of her character. The beauty of a show with two people is the collaborative nature of the process - the group diagnostics of the text, blocking, and technical problem solving.
Matt Friedman, throughout the show, talks about this extended metaphor of people as eggs - how afraid we are to be damaged or cracked, while addressing our need for vulnerability. At the shows end, he summarizes the beauty and complexity of people and subtext so concisely and so well: "We're so terrified. But we still hope."