Talley's Folly

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The best way to discuss Lanford Wilson’s trilogy of plays about the Talley clan would probably be to ignore their order of production/publication and treat them as a single unified family chronicle, beginning with A Tale Told (as yet unpublished), which explores the family traumas and crises at the end of World War II, then Talley’s Folly (produced, 1979; published, 1980), the romance between the family oddball, Sally, and her middle-aged Jewish suitor, and finally 5th of July (produced, 1978; published, 1979), which jumps ahead thirty-three years to dramatize the plight of the Talleys born after World War II, illusioned in the 1960’s, and disillusioned in the 1970’s. At the same time, however, each play is a separate, powerful whole that can be appreciated on its own terms. This is especially true of Talley’s Folly, the most commercially successful of the three, indeed, of Lanford Wilson’s entire career.

Since the production of his first play, The Madness of Lady Bright in 1964, Wilson has been one of the most consistently stimulating, provocative, and—although clearly influenced by Anton Chekhov and Tennessee Williams among others—original of contemporary American playwrights. In plotting, characterization, and dialogue, he seems to be an “old-fashioned” realist, in attitude and awareness a thorough contemporary, and in theatrical approach, an experimenter.

Despite the color and variety in his work, however, all of the plays utilize one of three structural approaches. A few, primarily the domestic conflict plays such as Lemon Sky, 5th of July, and The Mound Builders, are conventionally realistic in organization. A small number of intimately related characters come into conflict over a single problem or cluster of problems, most often based on shifting family relationships. Another set of dramas, which might be called the “ensemble plays”—Balm in Gilead, The Hot l Baltimore, The Rimers of Eldritch—are put together much more elaborately. In these plays, an extremely large cast more or less splits into a series of character clusters, each with their own mini-plays to act out in the context of the whole. The rhythm and movement of these plays is controlled by juxtaposing the various groups against each other and fluidly moving between them, while gradually building an overall sense of meaning and direction until the whole finally jells. Then, at the other extreme, are the small, tightly focused plays, where everything is narrowed and intensified into a confrontation between two vital, troubled characters. Examples of this approach are his brilliant early one-act plays The Madness of Lady Bright and Home Free, his provocative, flawed full-length work The Gingham Dog, and, of course, Talley’s Folly.

Talley’s Folly is the story of an unlikely affair between two individuals who seem to have little in common beyond the fact that they are both outsiders. Matt Friedman, a forty-two-year-old-Jewish accountant, enters and talks directly to the audience. He introduces himself, gives a tour of the set, an old Victorian-styled boathouse on the Talley farm, verbally establishes mood and atmosphere, and sketches in the social and personal background of the play.

The boathouse setting provides the play with both its title and its atmosphere. “Talley’s Folly” is the name given the boathouse when Sally Talley’s Uncle Everett “Whistler” Talley first built it in 1870. The character of the old oddball Uncle remains in the background of the play as referent and model against whom the narrow, rigid, conformist, “successful” Talleys of the mid-1940’s are measured. The ornate boathouse “constructed of louvers, and lattice and geegaws” gives the play an otherworldly, sentimental, nineteenth centuryish feeling. This atmosphere is enhanced by sentimental music in the background coming from the Fourth of July celebrations in the park on the other side of the small lake. This music, Friedman says, sets the tone of the play: “this should be a waltz one-two-three, one-two-three a no-holds-barred romantic story.”

After Matt goes through his introductions twice (once quickly “for the latecomers”), Sally appears. She is irritated by Matt’s persistence, as well as by the behavior of her own family back on the hill (the subject of the last play, A Tale Told). Matt represents a possibility in her life that she had rejected—or thinks that she had rejected—yet her attraction to him is clear and the overall shape and direction of the play is evident from its first moments. Matt will gradually break down Sally’s resistance until she gives up, admits she loves him, and agrees to go off with him. In the process, we get to know and like these two individuals, and also, finally, to learn their secrets: why has this middle-aged Jewish man, apparently without any previous attachments, suddenly decided to woo aggressively a thirty-one-year-old Midwestern WASP spinster? Why has Sally Talley, a moderately attractive, socially prominent young woman, remained unmarried and almost ostracized by her family? And what exactly is her relationship to that family?

The course of their previous romance is never really given in any detail. One year previously, Matt and Sally had had an intense one-week relationship (he calls it “an affair,” she denies it). How they met and why they separated so abruptly are never explained. Since that week he has pursued her by mail, without response, and in person with a visit to the hospital where she works (she hid from him in the kitchen). This Fourth of July evening visit to the Talley farm represents his last chance and, when we meet him, it has not gone well. Brother Buddy Talley has driven him off with a shotgun, sister-in-law Olive has called the police, and his car—he says—is out of gas. When Sally appears, it is to get rid of him or perhaps rescue him, but not to renew their romance.

The play moves much like a boxing match in dialogue. He asserts, questions, pokes holes in her answers; she denies, evades, rebukes, threatens constantly to leave, asks questions of her own, and exposes his vulnerabilities. Approximately the first half of this long one-act play focusses on the breaking down of Sally’s deceptive resistance, until she is at last willing to deal honestly with the situation. The second half of the play is devoted to digging out the answers to the hidden personal questions that are keeping them apart.

The combat is delightful. Both Matt and Sally are intelligent, witty people and their repartee is lively, stimulating, and humorous. Matt is a natural comic and mimic; Sally is an excellent straightman. Wilson’s adroit skill in using details and props fleshes out the early moments of the play. It is an old cast-off pair of ice skates that Matt uses to break down Sally’s initial resistance. Once they are “skating together” on the wooden floor of the old boathouse, it is only a matter of time before Sally gives in to Matt.

The lightness of the early dialogue gradually darkens as the couple get closer to admitting their “secrets.” The final revelations, however, turn out to be less startling than anticipated. Matt, a Jew displaced by World War II, has no nationality or racial identity and, therefore, has turned his back on the world. He focusses this feeling in his decision to refuse to father any children into such a world. Sally’s secret is, due to a TB infection contracted (innocently) during her high school years, that she can bear no children—a fact that accounts for her standing in the family clan; they had wanted her to marry the business partner and her illness messed up the “merger.” Thus, in the end, Matt and Sally turn out to be ideally suited.

Yet Wilson makes it clear that these hidden factors were not the primary difficulties in their relationship. The real problems lie in the nature of human communication and the fear of being hurt. Midway in the play, Matt underscores this theme by repeating a conversation he had earlier:He said people are eggs. Said we had to be careful not to bang up against each other too hard. Crack our shells, never be any use again. Said we were eggs. Individuals.

Matt, however, has an answer to that analogy.What good is an egg? Gotta be hatched or boiled or beat up into something like a lot of other eggs. Then you’re cookin’. I told him he ought not to be too afraid of gettin’ his yolk broke.

Matt has waited until he was middle-aged before seeking love, because his traumatic childhood experiences had left him emotionally crippled and withdrawn. Meeting Sally, he suddenly realized that to be completely human he would have to make himself vulnerable and risk further emotional damage. He then succeeds in passing that insight on to Sally. She at last comes to understand that her fear of their relationship was actually rooted in her fear of being hurt—but that the alternative would be a lifetime of emotional sterility. Only marriage to Matt will enable her to break loose both from the suffocating atmosphere of the Talley family circle and from her own inhibitions and fears to develop fully her human potential. That the marriage does, in fact, do this for her is proven when she reappears thirty-three years later in 5th of July as a resourceful, compassionate, feisty widow.

Wilson has frequently been compared to Tennessee Williams, an identification acknowledged by both playwrights (they collaborated on “The Migrants,” a CBS-Playhouse 90 script; Wilson wrote the libretto for the operatic version of Summer and Smoke). Both playwrights tend to focus on marginal, alienated individuals, those rejected, cast off, or broken by society and “life” (Williams perhaps more so than Wilson). Both are “realistic” playwrights whose theatrical techniques skirt the edges of “expressionism” and “surrealism.” Both are “poets” in the theater who write highly charged, intensely lyrical dialogue. And both stress themes of loneliness, noncommunication, frustrated love, and loss of meaning in a crass, materialistic world. These similarities can very clearly be seen by a comparison between Talley’s Folly and Williams’ first play, The Glass Menagerie.

Matt Friedman’s “introduction” to the audience/reader resembles that made by Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. They both describe the setting, give historical and personal background, and set the mood and tone of their respective plays. Perhaps the most important thing they do, however, is express the playwrights’ own attitudes toward the action of the play. To Tom Wingfield it is a “sentimental” “memory” play that blunts the harsh realities of life. Matt Friedman considers his play a “romance,” but suggests that that does not make it any less true. Both plays are about spinsters who encounter vital men who offer them a chance (at least psychologically) to escape their barren presents and bleak futures. Yet, Williams’ Laura Wingfield is ultimately disappointed and will, we are given to understand, be destroyed by a world too harsh for her delicate sensibilities. Sally Talley, however, is no Laura Wingfield. With Wilson’s approval, she escapes her sterile life and is able to find a new, happy one with her “gentleman caller.”

Perhaps even more revealing are the two absent characters who hover in the backgrounds of the two plays, the “Father” in The Glass Menagerie and “Uncle Whistler” in Talley’s Folly. The Williams Father “was a telephone man who fell in love with long distance” and deserted his family, as Tom, the son, is about to do. Unable to deal with the world he lived in, the Father ran away from it. On the other hand, Uncle Whistler stayed put, kept his integrity, built his crazy structures despite community mockery, reared a huge family, and was “happy.” Integrity and happiness are real possibilities for Wilson, never more than vain, sentimental hopes for Williams. Wilson’s characters are tougher, stronger, less self-pitying, and more energetic. The world he pictures is, like Williams’, crude, dark, and chaotic; but decency and love can survive in it and even, for some especially courageous and tenacious individuals, they can flourish.

All of which is not to fall into the facile generalization that Wilson is the superior playwright because he is more “positive” than Williams. Even at his best, Wilson’s plays never attain the emotional intensity or theatrical power of Williams’ greatest dramas, nor has he created any individual characters as memorable as Amanda Wingfield, Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski, or Hannah Jelkes. In 1980, however, the Wilson version of the world seems more real, more deep, and more satisfying than that posited by any other current American playwright. For all of its virtuosity and power, Talley’s Folly is not Wilson’s best play—“bigger” plays like The Rimers of Eldritch, The Hot l Baltimore, The Mound Builders, and 5th of July have more depth and resonance—but it is a marvelous crystalization of Lanford Wilson’s insight into the modern world and his compassion for those who live in it.

The Play

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The set consists of an elaborate Victorian boathouse, now gone to ruin, containing a latticework crammed with long-unused fishing equipment. Matt Friedman, forty-two, an accountant from St. Louis, enters and begins to address the audience. Although he mentions that a year ago he visited Sally Talley and spent some time at this very spot, he appears to be more interested in telling the audience that because he is not a “romantic type” of character, the technical elements of theater (lighting, sound, and set) along with the assistance of the audience are required to create the romantic atmosphere for this play. During his monologue he often lapses into seemingly irrelevant digressions that barely conceal his nervousness and volubility. Just when Matt appears completely lost in his whimsical musings, Sally, offstage, yells his name. As if by magic, the houselights dim, the special theatrical effects are added, and the drama begins.

Sally enters. She is thirty-four years old, works as a nurse at a hospital in Springfield, and lives at home with her parents. She complains that his interference with her family has precipitated a crisis she will be forced to resolve. Smatterings of exposition are revealed as they interact. Five months ago Matt had come to the hospital where Sally works and tried to see her; apparently she knew that he was there, but she refused to see him. Sally also notes that she had sent him only one letter in reply to numerous letters on his part. In her letter she had told him clearly that she had no intention of seeing him again.

Matt tries on a pair of old skates he finds stashed in the boathouse. As he simulates skating with Sally, he hums a song and says, “I’m having an old-fashioned skate with my girl.” His gambit does not work—Sally responds, “I’m not your girl,” and begins to walk away. At that moment, however, fortune smiles on Matt. When he tries to catch up with her, he falls through the floor of the boathouse and is nearly injured.

Now that Matt has Sally’s attention again, he tries to coax a favorable response from her by referring to the “affair” the two had last year. He notes that they did see each other seven times in seven days. When Sally again begins to walk away, Matt appeals to her to not run away from this encounter.

Sally admits that she needs to move away from the stifling atmosphere of her parents’ house. Matt invites her to consider the possibility that he might be in love with her, and that she might be in love with him. Then he turns to his playful nature and gift of mimicry to ask a series of rhetorical questions about this fascinating woman. He surprises her by referring to conversations he had with the patients at the hospital in Springfield while he waited to see Sally that day back in February; many of them told him that Sally had said she had a “beau.”

This moment of intimacy is broken when she sees a spot of blood on his face. When Matt fell while “skating,” he apparently scratched himself. Sally becomes the nurse, and as she dabs at his cut, they begin to interact in a more subdued manner. Matt reveals that he learned many details of Sally’s past by talking to her Aunt Charlotte. This exposition reveals Sally to have been a free spirit in a conservative family that would have preferred a traditional old maid daughter. Suddenly Sally takes charge and begins to ask questions about Matt’s life story. After several playful responses, Matt nervously launches into a strange retelling of a crucial part of his family’s history in Europe before World War I. He tells of his family’s torture and death at the hands of the French and the Germans because of his father’s knowledge of munitions. Matt, then a boy, was smuggled to America with his uncle’s family. He concludes that in order to spare a child from ever being lost to similar political machinations, he will never help bring a child into the world.

Matt’s story represents an anguished recollection of horrible events, but his telling of the story backfires. Convinced that Aunt Charlotte has shared some secret with Matt, and that Matt has told the story because he feels sorry for her, Sally repudiates him. Matt quickly explains that Aunt Charlotte told him nothing—he told her the story only because she asked him to. Sally calms down, and their conversation drifts away from personal topics.

Finally, Matt sums up his frustration:I come down here to tell you I am in love for the only time in my life with a girl who sees the world exactly as I see it. I say to you, I am sorry, Sally, I will not have children, but if there is a life for the two of us, will you have me or not? You scream and yell bloody murder.

One last gambit occurs to him, however, before they leave. He recalls that Aunt Charlotte told him that Sally has a deep dark secret that only Sally can reveal. He probes Sally to discover her secret. She admits that she was “disappointed in love,” later adding that she contracted tuberculosis. Then her marriage to the son of a prominent businessman was called off. Matt is not satisfied; he thinks he knows why her marriage was called off—she had an illegitimate child. He presses her relentlessly until she can no longer keep the truth from him. With an emotional outburst, she admits that the tuberculosis caused an infection that rendered her infertile. When her fiancé’s family discovered that she could not provide him with an heir, they called off the marriage. Matt responds with sensitivity and love. Relieved that she has revealed her secret, Matt shows Sally that this revelation does not change his feelings for her or their prospects of life together. He does not want a family; she cannot conceive children. What matters is that they can start a life together. They decide to leave for St. Louis that very night. They kiss. Matt turns to the audience and acknowledges that romance has prevailed.

Dramatic Devices

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The play’s opening scene presents a number of challenging dramatic devices. When the audience enters the theater and surveys the stage setting, it sees upon the stage a dilapidated Victorian boathouse amid waist-high weeds. Despite the romantic possibilities of the setting, the opposite effect is emphasized at the opening. Lanford Wilson specifies that “all this is seen in a blank white work light; the artificiality of the theatrical set quite apparent. The houselights are up.” In other words, most of the magic of the theatrical experience—its ability to transport an audience from one time and place to another—is purposely withheld at the opening of the play.

When Matt enters, the conventions that audiences are accustomed to experiencing in the theater are immediately disrupted. He addresses the audience directly, not as in the conventional monologue, which addresses questions of plot and motivation, but as if he were greeting members of the audience in the lobby before a performance begins. In fact, the first thing he tells the audience is how long the play will last; the audience may well wonder, “Has the play begun?” Wilson wants the audience to understand that it must be an active participant in the overall drama of the play. Matt appears alone before the audience in order to present himself as he is, to gain its confidence, and to exact a promise that the audience will help him generate an atmosphere of romance so that he can win Sally’s hand. For his part, he promises to keep the schedule, use the “facilities” of the theater for all they are worth (the special effects of lighting, music, and so on), and to keep Sally onstage until she yields to his proposal.

As soon as Sally’s voice is heard offstage, however, Matt the stage manager becomes Matt the character. The transformation is accompanied by the theatrical magic that the audience expects from a romantic play—suddenly the houselights dim, and the illusions of theatrical magic appear: the reflection of a sunset on the river and the sounds of water running and birds singing. The drama begins in earnest, and Matt and Sally begin to dance the elusive “waltz” that Matt refers to at the opening. Each time their dance appears about to end abruptly, some accident or idiosyncratic response reinvigorates the dialogue, and the dance resumes. Meanwhile, the spell cast by their interaction and revelations of character causes the audience to become willing participants in the drama. Matt acknowledges the audience’s role when, at the end of the play, he turns to the audience and, as if winking, says, “And so, all’s well that ends . . . right on the button. Good night.”

Historical Context

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Examining Vietnam
Although the United States had withdrawn its last troops from Southeast Asia seven years before Talley’s Folly opened in 1979, America was still trying to come to terms with the war. In 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, and the mass graves of as many as three million Cambodians killed by the U.S.-supported Khmer Rouge were found, raising new questions about U.S. involvement in other countries.

Many American artists, including Lanford Wilson, explored the conflict in their work. The year 1978 saw the first production of Wilson’s Fifth of July, about a man who has lost both legs in Vietnam, and the release of two Academy Awardwinning movies about the war, Coming Home and The Deer Hunter. In 1979, as thousands of Americans were flocking to movie theaters to see another Vietnam film, Apocalypse Now, Wilson turned his attention to Sally Talley, one of the characters in Fifth of July, to show how she came to be who she was. Significantly, he placed his play about the younger Sally, Talley’s Folly, in 1944, just as the United States was nearing the end of World War II.

Although he set Talley’s Folly many years before the war in Vietnam, Wilson uses the play to examine issues raised by that war—and by all wars. During the late 1970s, some people questioned the role of the United States in Southeast Asia, asking whether Cold War fear of communism had caused the United States to make a dishonorable pact with the Khmer Rouge and unwise military decisions in Vietnam. Similarly, the character of Matt, who seems to speak for Wilson on political matters, raises questions about the things the Talleys fear. The Talley’s have a narrow range of beliefs and behaviors that they consider patriotic, and they are suspicious of socialists, Jews, Emma Goldman, even Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Wilson believes that war is harmful to the psyches of individuals and of nations. In Fifth of July he shows how the Vietnam War eroded the humanity of the Talleys. In Talley’s Folly, Matt’s horrible experiences in Europe and the immoral profit the Talleys realize from World War II demonstrate the same erosion.

Feminism
Equality for women was another major social issue in the United States during the 1970s. Fifty years after the U.S. Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote, the National Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970 began a decade of publicity over the rights of women. In 1972, the never-ratified Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution was passed by both houses of Congress, the first issue of Ms. magazine was published, and Title IX of the Higher Education Act banned gender bias in athletics and other activities in all institutions receiving federal funds.

The rest of the decade saw the Supreme Court protecting abortion rights with the Roe v. Wade decision (1973), the U.S. Tennis Association deciding to award equal prize money to men and women (1973), Little League Baseball being opened to girls (1974), and Margaret Thatcher becoming the Prime Minister of Great Britain (1979).

Not everyone welcomed changes in gender roles and attitudes. For example, Phyllis Schlafly, one of Good Housekeeping magazine’s ten most admired women in the world for 1977, campaigned vigorously against the Equal Rights Amendment and is credited with stopping its ratification.

Against this backdrop, Wilson examined the expectations for women and for male-female relationships in many of his plays. In Talley’s Folly, he creates two feminists in Matt and Sally, who each expect that a woman will work and be productive and that she will think of herself ‘‘as a human being rather than a featherbed.’’

Literary Style

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Setting
Talley’s Folly takes place on the evening of July 4, 1944, in the old boathouse on the Talley property just outside the small Ozark town of Lebanon, Missouri. The boathouse, dripping with Victorian curlicues and gingerbread, was built in 1870 by Sally’s eccentric uncle, Everett ‘‘Whistler’’ Talley, who also built the town bandstand and other fanciful structures, or ‘‘follies,’’ all over town. By 1944, the boathouse has fallen out of use. It is surrounded by waist-high weeds and full of old fishing equipment, skates, and boats. The floor is so rotten that Matt falls through it. Sally sometimes comes here to get away from her family—or to be alone with Matt, as she did a year before.

The set is important to Wilson, and he describes it clearly in the text. The boathouse is meant to be lacy and ornamental as a valentine, the perfect setting for a romantic story. But Wilson also wants the audience to remember that it is a set, not a real boathouse. As the audience enters, the work lights and house lights are turned up so that the ‘‘artificiality of the theatrical set’’ is ‘‘quite apparent.’’ Matt shows the audience the set and describes how the lighting will work. The audience, he points out, is sitting where the river would be. He acknowledges that there will not be much action, and says, ‘‘We could do it on a couple of folding chairs, but it isn’t bare, it isn’t bombed out, it’s run-down, and the difference is all the difference.’’

The date, July 4, 1944, is also significant. The United States is heavily involved in World War II, and D-Day was just a month earlier. Matt has not enlisted in the Army, though he could, and Sally’s family is profiting from the war, though Sally disapproves. In Europe, Jews are dying by the millions, and though Sally and Matt may not yet know that, the reader does. The backdrop of the war helps raise issues of patriotism, capitalism, and anti-Semitism.

The Fourth Wall
A convention of the theater is that there is an invisible wall at the front of the stage through which the audience watches the action. The audience is supposed to suspend disbelief, to go along with the notion that the world on stage is a complete world. In the ‘‘real world,’’ the boathouse in which Matt and Sally meet would not be open along the river side. It would have four walls, not three, and the audience would not be sitting—as Matt points out— in the river. In a traditional theater experience, the audience would understand all of this without being told, and they would become thoroughly engaged in watching and believing the action on stage.

Wilson, however, makes it a point to break down the ‘‘fourth wall’’ of the theater, to call attention to the fact that this is a play, not reality. Matt opens and closes the play by speaking directly to the audience about the play. He tells them how long the play will run (‘‘we have ninety-seven minutes here tonight—without intermission’’), how the lighting will work, and how he hopes the story will turn out. He invites the audience to get a drink before the play starts. At one point he stops and delivers ‘‘this first part all over again for the latecomers.’’ Matt addresses the audience again in the last line of the play, when he turns again to the seats to show the audience his watch, and assure them that the play is finished ‘‘right on the button.’’

Irony
Irony is a term used to describe a disjunction between what appears to be true and what actually is true. Often, in drama, the disjunction occurs when the audience has information that a character does not have, and the irony is in the character’s not realizing the full meaning of what they say. Talley’s Folly, however, is a textbook example of irony coming from the situation, from things that have happened before the play begins. Matt has decided not to father children, and he believes that no woman will have him because of this decision. Sally cannot bear children, and believes that no man will have her because of it. The irony is in the wonderful coincidence, in the way that Sally and Matt are both wrong in what they have believed. The reader has no special knowledge, but discovers the irony along with the characters.

Prior Knowledge
Although the play can stand on its own, many readers of Talley’s Folly begin with some knowledge of Sally and Matt and the Talley family. When Talley’s Folly opened, many in the audience had already seen the popular Fifth of July, which Wilson wrote before Talley’s Folly but which takes place thirty-three years later. Many readers today have also encountered the third Talley play, Talley & Son, which takes place up at the Talley house on the same evening that Matt and Sally are in the boathouse.

A reader approaching Talley’s Folly hopes and perhaps expects that Matt and Sally will come together in the end, but those who have experienced the other plays know it will happen. During Talley & Son, Sally comes up to the house to pack before eloping. Aunt Charlotte speaks with Sally, and persuades her to try to leave without telling anyone, but Sally and her father, Eldon Talley, do see each other before she leaves. Eldon, surprisingly, allows Sally to leave with Matt, telling her that he hopes she is not making a mistake. Years later, Sally reappears in Fifth of July, preparing to bury Matt’s ashes. She and Matt were married and were happy together until death parted them.

Those coming to Talley’s Folly without the benefit of the other Talley plays enjoy watching two fragile ‘‘eggs’’ find strength in each other. For those who have met the Talleys before, the pleasure is of a different kind: it is the pleasure of hearing old stories about old friends.

Compare and Contrast

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1940: Laclede County, Missouri, which includes the town of Lebanon, is a mostly rural area in the wooded Ozark Mountains. Although the fictional Talley family owns an important garment factory, only about one-seventh of the work force is in manufacturing. A much larger portion, almost half, works in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. About one-tenth work in retail.

1980: Factories are more important to the economy of Laclede County. More than one-fourth of the county’s workers are in manufacturing, while less than one-tenth work in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. About one-fifth work in retail.

1990: The trend away from agriculture and toward manufacturing and retail jobs continues in Laclede County. Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries account for only one-twentieth of the jobs, while manufacturing accounts for one-third and retail for one-fifth.

1940s: Anti-communism is one of the most important issues in United States domestic politics. Although the American Communist Party attracted some middle-class support in the 1930s, especially among those who favored labor unions, by the 1940s most of the appeal had waned. Although the United States and Russia were allies in World War II, communism was seen by most Americans as a ‘‘menace.’’

1970s: In large part due to the influence of the Civil Rights Movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, liberal thought is widely, but not universally, respected in the United States. Communism is associated in most people’s minds with the political structures of the U.S.S.R., not with a social theory, and it is still suspect. At the end of the decade, Ronald Reagan mounts a successful run for the presidency by promising to stamp out communism.

Today: With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., communism has come to be seen by the general American population as an outdated and failed political philosophy. Those who call themselves communists are met more with amusement than with anger.

1944: Vietnam, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, declares its independence from France. 1961 to 1975: The United States sends troops to Vietnam to help South Vietnam defeat communists in North Vietnam, in America’s most unpopular military action. More than 55,000 Americans are killed, and many thousands more are wounded.

Today: The Vietnam War is considered a humiliating defeat for the United States. Politicians look to the legacy of the war whenever they consider sending U.S. troops abroad; among their greatest fears is creating ‘‘another Vietnam.’’

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Barnett, Gene A., Lanford Wilson, Twayne, 1987, pp. 121–22.

Busby, Mark, Lanford Wilson, Boise State University, 1987, pp. 38–39.

Clurman, Harold, Review in The Nation, March 15, 1980, p. 316.

Cooperman, Robert, ‘‘The Talley Plays and the Evolution of the American Family,’’ in Lanford Wilson: A Casebook, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, Garland, 1994, pp. 67, 72, 75.

Haller, Scott, ‘‘The Dramatic Rise of Lanford Wilson,’’ in Saturday Review, August 1981, p. 26.

Hughes, Catharine, ‘‘Four Uppers,’’ in America, March 22, 1980, p. 247.

Kroll, Jack, ‘‘Love in a Folly,’’ in Newsweek, March 3, 1980, p. 53.

Molyneaux, Gerard M., Review in Library Journal, April 1, 1980, p. 874.

Nightingale, Benedict, ‘‘Wound Up,’’ in New Statesman, June 11, 1982, p. 34.

Simon, John, Review in The New Yorker, March 3, 1980, p. 62.

Further Reading
Dean, Anne M., Discovery and Invention: The Urban Plays of Lanford Wilson, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, pp. 15–29. As the title indicates, this book-length study focuses on Wilson’s plays that take place in cities, not on the Talley plays set in Lebanon, Missouri. However, Dean’s first chapter is a brief biography of the playwright, written with his cooperation and the help of several of his close colleagues. This chapter is the best source for insight into Wilson’s reliance on mentors and colleagues in his creative process.

Ryzuk, Mary S., The Circle Repertory Company: The First Fifteen Years, Iowa State University Press. A straightforward history of the theater company founded in New York by Lanford Wilson and the director Marshall W. Mason. The ‘‘Circle Rep’’ was the site of the first production of Talley’s Folly and the other Talley plays.

Savran, David, ‘‘Lanford Wilson,’’ in In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights, Theatre Communications Group, pp. 306–20. In this interview Wilson discusses the years he studied the ‘‘well-made play,’’ a tightly constructed form of drama first produced in nineteenth-century France. Wilson used the structure of the well-made play in the writing of several of his own plays, including Talley’s Folley.

Williams, Philip Middleton, The Comfortable House: Lanford Wilson, Marshall W. Mason and the Circle Repertory Theatre, McFarland. Examines the collaboration between Wilson and Mason, who directed almost forty productions of Wilson’s plays. Through interviews, drama reviews, and analysis of scripts in various stages of revision, this book demonstrates how playwright and director working together can enrich a production beyond the capabilities of either alone.

Bibliography

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Sources for Further Study

Barnett, Gene A. Lanford Wilson. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

Busby, Mark. Lanford Wilson. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1987.

Dasgupta, Gautam. “Lanford Wilson.” In American Playwrights: A Critical Survey, edited by Bonnie Marranca and Gautam Dasgupta. New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1981.

DiGaetani, John L. “Lanford Wilson.” In A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Gussow, Mel. “Lanford Wilson on Broadway.” Horizon 23 (May, 1980): 30-36.

Savran, David. “Lanford Wilson.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.

Schvey, Henry I. “Images of the Past in the Plays of Lanford Wilson.” In Essays on Contemporary American Drama, edited by Hedwig Bock. Munich: M. Hueber, 1981.

Wilson, Lanford. “An Interview with Lanford Wilson.” Interview by John C. Tibbets. Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Spring, 1991.

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