Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Set on July 4, 1944, Talley’s Folly concerns two characters who are revealed largely through exposition and lengthy monologues: Sally Talley, a nurse headed for self-imposed spinsterhood, and Matt Friedman, a liberal Jewish accountant fond of using comedy routines to mask his vulnerability.
The “folly” of the play’s title and the locale for the action is a boathouse that Sally’s Uncle Everett constructed in place of a gazebo he had hoped to build. Wilson opens the play using a Wilder-like frame, with Matt as narrator/stage manager conspiratorially explaining to the audience that they are about to witness a “once-upon-a-time” romance that could happen only in the theater.
When Matt narrates the history of his family—of a Prussian father and Ukrainian mother “indefinitely detained” by the Germans in World War I; of a Latvian sister tortured by the French so their father would divulge information he never had; and of himself, born in Lithuania and arriving as a refugee with his uncle from Norway via Caracas—he distances the painful story by narrating it in the third-person voice.
Because of his wandering family’s past, Matt considers himself non-nationalistic, feeling little allegiance to any political cause or “ism.” Although he escaped the draft because of his age, he is not unaffected by the war (which, he believes, governments deliberately prolong for economic reasons). Uncertain that there...
(The entire section is 500 words.)
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