Romances and Revivals

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Two no-holds-barred Off-Broadway love stories

By Leslie (Hoban) Blake

The most romantic fairy tale revival in town right now isn't Cinderella, but the Roundabout Theatre's revival of Lanford Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning Talley's Folly, lovingly directed by Michael Wilson. "They tell me we have 97 minutes here tonight? without intermission," begins Danny Burstein's Matt Friedman who then predicts that those 97 minutes will become not only "?a waltz, one, two three, one two three?" but "? a no-holds-barred romantic story."

Burstein-a three time Tony nominee/Drama Desk winner (Follies, South Pacific) and Broadway's current crown prince character-actor-cum-leading man, brilliantly creates the 42 year old Jewish, unrepentant left-wing/Socialist, Northern outsider in search of both love and the American dream as embodied by his Southern shiksa princess, Sally Talley (Sarah Paulson). She's a quick-tongued maiden-lady of 31, with several brothers who all hate radicals and Jews and have the guns to prove it!

But Talley's Folly is less Romeo and Juliet and more Much Ado About Nothing, with its prickly, not-quite-young, not-quite-lovers. Burstein has the showier role while Paulson (American Horror Story) must resist Matt's obvious charms against the audience's palpable need for her to be his. She remains so tightly coiled that we fear she may not say yes, even though we know she has to acquiesce or they can never waltz and waltz they do on Jeff Cowies's gorgeously broken-down boathouse (the "Folly" of the title) set, festooned with giant Valentine roses!

Amy Herzog's Belleville, at the New York Theatre Workshop, is also about 97 minutes long, featuring a much younger, contemporary couple who are already married. Abby (Maria Dizzia) and Zack (Greg Keller), are living what should be a fairy tale existence in the titular Parisian bohemian quartier.

But almost from the beginning, there's a feeling of something amiss-more grimly Hitchcock than Brothers Grimm-in their chilly banlieue paradise. Zack works for Doctors without Borders but money's tight and Abby's attempt to help pay the rent by teaching yoga fails. He spends far too much time smoking pot with their Afro-Muslim landlord, Alioune (Philip James Brannon), and she has stopped taking her anti-depression meds.

Their story soon devolves into a folie a deux and it's just a pas de deux to the truly dark side-no waltzing at all in this cautionary tale, smartly directed by Anne Kauffman.

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