Talley's Folly

Talley's Folly

Mermaid Dramabook Series published by Hill and Wang, 1980
Written by Lanford Wilson
Characters Sally Talley
Matt Friedman
Date premiered February 20, 1980
Place premiered Brooks Atkinson Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
Series The Talley Trilogy:
Talley and Son
Talley's Folly
Fifth of July
Subject Two "lame ducks" who find a wholeness rare in human relationships
Genre Drama
Setting An old boathouse in rural Missouri, 1944

Talley's Folly is a 1979 play by American playwright Lanford Wilson, the second in his cycle, The Talley Trilogy between his plays Talley & Son and Fifth of July. Set in an old boathouse near rural Lebanon, Missouri in 1944, it is a romantic comedy following the characters Matt Friedman and Sally Talley as they once and for all settle their feelings for each other. Wilson received the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work. The play is unique for Wilson in that it takes place in one act, with no intermission, set in ninety-seven minutes of real time. There is no set change.


Talley's Folly is the story of one night in the lives of two unlikely sweethearts, Matt Friedman and Sally Talley. The one-act play takes place in a dilapidated boathouse on the Talley farm in Missouri. It is the Fourth of July in 1944.

The play opens with Matt directly addressing the audience, telling them that the play will take ninety-seven minutes and he hopes to capture and relate his story properly in that amount of time. Taking the time to point out some staging elements, he tells the audience that the gazebo-like structure next to him is a Victorian boathouse, which has unfortunately fallen into disrepair.

While on vacation in Lebanon, Missouri the previous summer, Matt met Sally and has sent her a letter every day since. Though the single reply from Sally gave him no hope for romantic encouragement, he has bravely returned to ask her to marry him.

Sally arrives at the boathouse and is in disbelief that Matt has shown up uninvited, even though he had written her that he planned to come for the holiday. Matt's arrival has created quite a stir in Sally's conservative Protestant household, where a Jewish man is not welcomed easily, especially when his intentions are to court their daughter, eleven years younger than he.

Matt's interest in Sally had never waned; once, he drove from his home in St. Louis to the hospital where she worked and waited hours for her, even after being informed that she was not available.

The conversation turns to the boathouse structure. Sally tells him it was constructed by her uncle, who built "follies" all over town. Her uncle did only what he wanted to do and Sally considers him the healthiest member of the family for his courage.

Eventually, the couple begins to reminisce about the night they met and the time they spent together last summer. Matt takes it as a positive sign that she has changed into a nice dress before coming to see him tonight. Sally's protests do not match her behavior and he pushes forward; she is the most mysterious and intriguing woman he has ever met and he determined quite a while ago to make her his wife.

Admitting that he has called Sally's aunt every two weeks during the past year, Matt reveals that he knows Sally was fired from a Sunday school teaching job. Apparently, she had been encouraging the students to read Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class in addition to the Methodist reader. The rise of labor unions was affecting the families of the children in her class and she felt obligated to help educate them. Her unorthodox methods earned her the consternation of the church elders as well as her own family members, who own the garment factory on which the labor issue centered.

Turning the tables, Sally tries to glean some information about Matt's background, a subject about which he is very guarded. He finally admits to Sally that he was probably born in Kaunas, Lithuania. His father had been an engineer. In 1911, his father was overheard in a French cafe discussing some work related to a nitrogen, a reference to the Haber Process developed in 1909 by a Jewish German chemist, Fritz Haber, to extract nitrogen from the air, which made the manufacture of gunpowder and fertilizer inexpensive. The family was later detained when they were trying to cross the border.

Matt's father and older sister were tortured until the French realized that the father had no information of any value to them. In the meantime, the sister had fallen into a coma from which she never awoke. They later went to the German authorities and were again detained. Matt escaped to America through the help of some relatives.

Haunted by his childhood grief, Matt vowed never to bring another child into a world that is filled with so much pain. Matt was content with his activities until he met Sally. Now he feels forever changed and hopeful for possibly the first time in his life.

Having risked the vulnerability of revealing his background, Matt presses Sally to share why she, a beautiful woman of 31 years, has never married. She characteristically diverts the conversation to economics, which frustrates Matt beyond bearing. Sally finally reveals her disappointment in love many years ago, which makes her reluctant to fall in love again.

Sally's family had partnered her with Harley Campbell, whose family was also wealthy. Theirs was to be a match made in heaven, especially for the business interests of the two families. Sally had been a cheerleader and Harley a basketball star.

Unfortunately, the families' fortunes waned during the Depression. In addition, Sally was struck with tuberculosis and was sequestered for a long time. A pelvic infection had left her barren and Harley's family would no longer condone their marriage.

Matt can't help but comment on the irony of their situation. All last winter he lamented over the fact that he was in love with a woman but could never have children, and now this same woman presents him with the same situation. He believes that an angel has guided his path to her. Sally agrees to marry him and move to the city, and they vow to return to the boathouse every year so they don't ever forget the place where they fell in love.


Talley's Folly was first performed Off-Broadway by the Circle Repertory Company on May 1, 1979, closing on June 3, 1979. Directed by Marshall W. Mason, the cast starred Judd Hirsch as Matt Friedman and Trish Hawkins as Sally Talley. The set was designed by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Jennifer von Mayrhauser, lighting by Dennis Parichy, and Sound Design by Chuck London.[1][2]

Subsequently, the production moved to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

The play then debuted on Broadway, opening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on February 7, 1980 (previews), and closing on November 18, 1980 after 286 performances. Hirsch and Hawkins starred.[3][4]

Talley's Folly was produced in London at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith which opened on the 27th May 1982 and ran until the 3rd July of the same year. The part of Sally Talley was taken by Hayley Mills and Matt Friedman by Jonathan Price.

Awards and nominations



  1. Kerr, Walter. Stage: Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson. New York Times. 21 February 1980.
  2. "'Talley's Folly' 1979" lortel.org, accessed November 18, 2015
  3. "'Talley's Folly' Broadway" playbillvault.com, accessed November 18, 2015
  4. The Broadway League. "Talley's Folly - IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information". ibdb.com. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  5. "Pulitzer Prize for Drama" pulitzer.org, accessed November 17, 2015

Further reading

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