Critical Context

Wilson’s plays often are characterized by themes derived from experiences in two contrasting worlds: the urban and the rural. In his plays with urban settings, characters live on the edge of existence and are trapped in decaying surroundings. The Madness of Lady Bright (pr. 1964, pb. 1967) portrays a woman’s descent into madness. Balm in Gilead (pr., pb. 1965) portrays a ragged group of the dispossessed who spend time in a small inner-city café. The award-winning The Hot l Baltimore (pr., pb. 1973) presents a similar collection of individuals, who live in a decaying hotel near a railroad station.

When Wilson utilizes rural settings, his characters are often so bound up in their hypocritical, guilt-ridden, dysfunctional family relationships that they are blind to the potential beauty and simplicity of the world around them. The Rimers of Eldritch (pr. 1966, pb. 1967) examines a town’s response to a dark secret, and The Mound Builders (pr. 1975, pb. 1976) exposes conflicts between those who would preserve the past and those who would destroy it for the sake of blindly following the god of development. These plays reflect Wilson’s ambivalence toward his own Midwestern roots.

Wilson often resolves these tensions by finding hope in the possibilities of life-sustaining human relationships. The relationship between Matt and Sally in Talley’s Folly exemplifies this hope. This play, which...

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