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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

This play, produced relatively late in Lanford Wilson’s Talley cycle, actually had its first Broadway airing in 1981, when it was produced as A Tale Told. This early version of the play was not a notable success, although it received some encouraging critical attention. After it closed on Broadway, it enjoyed a continued run Off-Broadway.

Wilson has a habit of working and reworking plays that do not please him, and he reworked A Tale Told for four years, bringing it to Broadway with the new title Talley and Son. The play has a complicated plot, but Wilson provides one character, the ghost of Timmy Talley, to serve the function of the chorus in Greek plays, that of giving the audience the details that they need to follow the action.

The play opens at sunset on the fourth of July, 1944. Timmy Talley’s ghost returns to his home on a rise overlooking Lebanon, Missouri, Wilson’s birthplace. Timmy, a member of the United States Marine Corps, was granted a furlough to come home from the South Pacific, where he was stationed, to attend the funeral of his grandfather, Calvin. Ironically, the old man has rallied to the point that he sneaks out in his son’s Packard automobile for a drive. Timmy was killed before he was able to leave the battle area. His brother, Buddy, who is serving in the armed forces in Italy, having received a similar furlough, arrived home a day earlier.

The play’s first act juggles four separate lines of narrative. Most of the characters have appeared earlier in other Wilson plays relating to the Talleys, and Wilson uses Timmy, in his role as chorus, to fill in needed details.

The Talley family has secrets that are gradually revealed as the play evolves. The grandfather, Calvin, is aware that his son Eldon impregnated the family’s washerwoman, Viola Pratt, eighteen years earlier. Avalaine Pratt, the child born of Eldon’s union with Viola, is now seventeen. Calvin tries to bribe her to marry Emmet Young, a handyman whom he employs.

Avalaine realizes her parentage and demands her part of the family fortune. Eldon, who has been running Talley & Sons, is under pressure from Delaware Industries to sell the company. Calvin is in favor of selling, but Eldon is stalwartly opposed to doing so. Calvin thinks he can prevent the impending sale, but Eldon has his father’s power of attorney, and, by using it in accordance with his own preferences rather than his father’s, he can thwart the takeover.

In this play, Wilson deals effectively with crucial intergenerational relationships as well as with the dog-eat-dog environment of big business. He also shows the effect of a...

(The entire section is 646 words.)