Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Lanford Wilson’s trilogy about the Talley family traces their spiritual decline in the 1940’s to their renewed hope and optimism in the late 1970’s. Talley’s Folly and Talley and Son take place on July 4, 1944, when the family learns that Eldon’s youngest child, Timmy, has been killed. In addition, family outcast Sally agrees on that day to marry Matt Friedman, a man of Russian-Jewish descent. Fifth of July may be viewed as the completion of the saga.

Of the three Talley plays, Fifth of July and Talley’s Folly have received the most critical attention, with Talley’s Folly winning the Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1980. Fifth of July, which was first performed Off-Broadway by the Circle Repertory Company in April, 1978, and ran for 168 performances, was revised, with significant changes, and reopened on Broadway in November, 1980, for a longer run.

The plots of Talley and Son and Talley’s Folly overlap, but Talley’s Folly is far less plot-driven. Set at the family boathouse, Talley’s Folly is a romantic comedy in which only two characters, Matt and Sally, discuss their relationship, World War II, the Talley family, and each other’s dreams and aspirations.

The events of Talley and Son and Talley’s Folly stress two complementary conflicts. Each is concerned with family—most particularly the role a family plays in contributing to and inhibiting the growth of individual members. Talley and Son demonstrates the importance of the father-son relationship, and Talley’s Folly emphasizes the effects of family estrangement on the individual. Timmy, the narrator of the former play, represents the failure of the Talley patriarchs, Eldon and Calvin Stuart Talley, to consider family bonds as more important than money and power. The elder Talley is portrayed as a powerful and corrupt figure in the history of Lebanon; he does whatever he can to protect the family name and to maintain control. Eldon has inherited many of his traits. For example, he has fathered a child out of wedlock but is unwilling to take responsibility. None of the sons is able to relate well to his father or to become the son for which his father wished....

(The entire section is 939 words.)