Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1021

Talley’s Folly has been well-received by critics and by audiences since its first performance at the Circle Repertory Theatre on May 3, 1979. Tickets to the production sold unusually well, and the play would have run longer but for the fact that Judd Hirsch, the actor playing Matt, had another commitment. The play won several important awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play, and the Brandeis University Creative Arts Award. After moving to Broadway on February 20, 1980, the play ran for 227 performances and was nominated for several Tony Awards. In 1983 the text was included in the volume Best American Plays: New York. The text has remained in print since its first publication in 1980, and the play is often performed on college campuses and in community theaters.

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When Talley’s Folly opened on Broadway, it was reviewed in important New York and national publications, and early reviewers were almost unanimous in praising the play. The performances of actors Judd Hirsch and Trish Hawkins were much admired, as were the direction, the set, the lighting, and the costumes; but Wilson’s script and vision also received great credit. Several reviewers noted that Talley’s Folly was refreshingly optimistic about humans’ capabilities for love and happiness, in contrast with many gloomy plays of the day. Veteran New Yorker reviewer John Simon called the play ‘‘enchanting: a small, elegantly composed study of two interesting people.’’ Jack Kroll, writing for Newsweek, called it a ‘‘sweet, tender, funny, life-embracing play.’’

A few reviewers, however, were troubled by the play’s lack of plot. For these critics, two characters talking and doing little else was simply not enough. A tepid review was written by Catharine Hughes in the magazine America. Although she respected the actors’ performances, she found the play ‘‘too fragile for Broadway even in this dismal season.’’ She believed the play had been ‘‘much more at home at the Circle Repertory, where it originated.’’ Harold Clurman, writing for The Nation, also had reservations. While he declared the play ‘‘charming and gay,’’ and ‘‘a breath of fresh air on Broadway,’’ he also felt that at times ‘‘a touch of cuteness, a kind of decorative archness, threatens to mar the fundamental humanity of what is being said.’’ He concluded that Talley’s Folly ‘‘may not be Wilson’s best play, though it is his most engaging.’’

The print version of Talley’s Folly was published in April 1980, shortly after the Broadway opening. In a brief review for Library Journal, Gerard M. Molyneaux commented, ‘‘It is not the plot that holds the reader’s interest, but Wilson’s craftsmanship, his sense of timing and humor, his sensitive use of language. The result is a charming theater piece whose strengths are retained on the printed page.’’ Molyneaux recommended the text for ‘‘all libraries with drama collections.’’

Wilson himself was surprised by the success of his play. In a 1981 article by Scott Haller in the Saturday Review Wilson commented, ‘‘I thought it was going to be the most unpopular thing I’d ever written. There was nothing compromised in the writing. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I couldn’t believe it when people liked it.’’

The play was popular enough in the United States to be produced in other countries, but the reception abroad was not as positive. New Statesman reviewer Benedict Nightingale, who saw the play at its London opening at the Lyric Theatre in 1982, was not captivated by the play’s charms. He found it ‘‘not hard to nod off’’ during the play, because Wilson ‘‘is so in love with naturalistic detail that nothing can actually happen—nothing, that is, except these...

(The entire section contains 1021 words.)

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