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Theatre / Talley's Folly

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Talley's Folly is a 1980 play by Lanford Wilson.

The setting is a boat house in Lebanon, Missouri, July 1944. The play, which runs 97 real-time minutes without a break, starts with a Jewish man, Matt Friedman, waiting in the boat house. Matt has come to the home of the wealthy Talley family because he wants to marry Sally, the daughter. It seems that Matt, an accountant, spent a week in Lebanon on vacation the previous summer, and fell in love with pretty Sally. They spent a romantic week together, but afterwards, Sally rejected Matt, not answering the letters he sends her and not coming out when he came to the hospital where she works as a nurse. Matt presses Sally to admit her feelings, and over the course of the play, the two of them admit secrets that have made each of them hesitant to accept love.


Judd Hirsch appeared in the original production as Matt. This play is the second in a trilogy of Wilson plays centering on the Talley family, being a prequel to his 1977 play Fifth of July and followed by 1981 play Talley & Son.note 



  • Bookends: The play begins with Matt Breaking the Fourth Wall, telling the audience that the play will run 97 minutes without a break. At the end, after embracing Sally, he turns to the audience and says "All's well that ends—", then checks his watch, then says "—right on the button. Good night."
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Matt enters the stage from the audience and tells them about the story he's about to tell, including the actual running time of the show — ninety-seven minutes, on the nose.
    • He specifically describes the set and what he hopes to accomplish, even apologizing to the audience for being in the river. He attempts to repeat his explanation 'for the late-comers', but gets distracted by, among other things, the lack of dogs barking in the distance and demands a barking dog from the stage manager.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: When Matt wonders why Sally won't accept him, he first starts speaking in a Yiddish accent (maybe it's because he's Jewish), then drops into a German accent (maybe it's because he's one of the enemy).
  • Exact Words: When Sally asks why Matt didn't leave after he was rudely dismissed by the Talley family, he says his car "needs gas to run." Later when she says he can get a gallon of gas from the neighbors, he says he has plenty of gas. He never said his car was out of gas, he just said it needs gas to run, which is true.
  • The Ghost: Sally's family, including her brother Buddy who greeted Matt with a shotgun, Buddy's wife Olive who as Matt says gaped like a fish when Matt came to the door, Sally's father who called Matt a Communist, and Sally's Aunt Charlotte, who apparently is playing The Matchmaker and has been in regular correspondence with Matt for a while. All of them are discussed repeatedly but none appear.
  • Hand Gag: When Matt offends Sally she starts yelling out for her menfolk. He claps a hand over her mouth until she calms down...and when he removes his hand she yells again. A second application of the hand gag succeeds in calming her down.
  • The Matchmaker: Aunt Charlotte, one of The Ghosts, who has been in regular correspondence with Matt and encourages the relationship, telling Sally that she should reveal her secret to Matt.
  • Medium Awareness: The play opens with Matt greeting the audience, telling them that the play will run 97 minutes without a break, then explaining the setting (a boathouse). He even calls out to the sound booth for the sound of a dog barking. Once Sally shows up this is forgotten about until Matt bids the audience goodbye at the end.
  • Minimalist Cast: There are only two characters, Matt and Sally.
  • Once Upon a Time: Matt with his Medium Awareness explains the setting to the audience, saying "There was a time," then corrects himself and says "Once upon a time."
  • Prequel: This play is a prequel to Wilson's 1997 play Fifth of July, which was set in 1977 and featured a recently widowed Sally as a character.
  • Real Time: A single 97-minute conversation between two people in a boathouse.
  • The Reveal: Matt wonders why Sally, who's pretty and the only daughter of a rich family, is unmarried at 31. Finally at the end of the play she tells him why: she suffered a pelvic infection that rendered her infertile, and in small-town Missouri that makes her a poor marriage prospect.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Matt the Jew from Eastern Europe falls in love with Sally the Missouri cheerleader. He says that his family warned him to stay away from the shiksa.
  • Title Drop: Sally says that her uncle built the boathouse, which she calls a "folly" (a building that is more decorative than practical).
  • Word Schmord: Matt doesn't indulge in a lot of Yiddish as a Second Language, but he does say "refugees, smefugees" when Sally asks if he came to America with a group of refugees.