Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1845
Talley’s Folly was first staged in 1979, a year after audiences had come to know one of its characters, Sally Talley Friedman, from her appearance in Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July. In Fifth of July, Sally is the family matriarch, the oldest and wittiest member of the extended family that shares the Talley home. Though she is not the most important character in the play, she is easily the most likeable. Sally has just been widowed, losing her husband, Matt, with whom she shared three decades of happiness; and she recently attended the funeral of an old friend, Harley Campbell, with whom she went to high school. Through a series of family conflicts and sorrows, Sally draws on her inner strength and her sense of humor to support herself and her family.
In some ways, Talley’s Folly is the story of how Sally gained her strength and humor. Though the main character of Talley’s Folly may appear to be Matt—after all, he has most of the best lines—it is actually Sally who most grows and develops during the encounter in the boathouse. Though he does not know exactly what he will say, Matt has already decided before he drives to Lebanon that he will ‘‘once in [his] life risk something’’ and declare himself to Sally. Sally, on the other hand, gathers her courage as the play goes on, through a series of starts and stops.
Set in 1944, the play begins with Sally an eccentric outcast in her own home, an unconventional woman in a conventional, male-centered household. She is a ‘‘terrible embarrassment to her family,’’ who see her as a ‘‘crazy old-maid Emma Goldman.’’ Her mother, Netta, reveals herself in Talley & Son to be neurotic and weak, no real support for her oddball daughter. Eldon, Sally’s father, is unscrupulous and unfaithful. Also sharing the home are Sally’s senile grandfather, Calvin Stuart Talley; her brother Buddy and his wife Olive; her other brother Timmy, who is off fighting in World War II; and Aunt Charlotte ‘‘Lottie’’ Talley. Buddy and Olive meet Matt at the door when he comes to ask for Sally’s hand. All Olive can do when she sees Matt is stand with her mouth open, ‘‘doing her imitation of a fish.’’ Buddy is more direct: He asks Matt, ‘‘You’re Sally’s Jewish friend, ain’t ya? What do you think you want here? Did you ever hear that trespassing was against the law?’’
Sally’s only support comes from Aunt Lottie, who is also Matt’s only ally in the Talley home. When Buddy tries to run Matt off the property, Lottie steps in, yelling, ‘‘This man came to see me.’’ She is lying to protect Matt, of course, but the truth is that Lottie and Matt have formed a friendship over the past year, talking on the phone ‘‘every few weeks during the winter.’’ Sally at first speaks as though she has no respect for Lottie’s judgment about people (‘‘Aunt Lottie would invite the devil into the parlor for hot cocoa’’), but as she begins to consider Matt more seriously she also comes to realize that Lottie is one member of her family who can be trusted, saying, ‘‘She doesn’t gossip about me. She didn’t tell you anything.’’ Although Talley’s Folly shows Lottie to be physically weak, lacking in confidence, and not respected by the others, she is the one of Sally’s clan who is not anti-Semitic, and who gives Matt a chance to prove himself a good man.
Both Matt and Sally seem to enjoy their own madness and comment frequently on it. Matt admits, ‘‘It was crazy to come down here,’’ but says he could not help himself. ‘‘You’ve got a wire crossed or something,’’ Sally says, and Matt agrees, ‘‘A screw loose.’’ ‘‘You are one total, living loose screw,’’ Sally repeats. Later, Matt tells Sally, ‘‘Sally has decided she is an eccentric old maid, and she is...
(The entire section contains 7938 words.)
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