Places: Talley Family Saga

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Fifth of July, 1978, revised, 1982; Talley’s Folly, 1979; Talley and Son, 1986

First produced: Fifth of July, 1978; Talley’s Folly, 1979; Talley and Son, 1981 (as A Tale Told)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: July 4, 1944, Talley’s Folly and Talley and Son; July 4/5, 1977, Fifth of July

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Lebanon

*Lebanon. Talley Family SagaSmall south-central Missouri town where the Talley family lives and where Lanford Wilson was born. The Talleys have lived and prospered in Lebanon for generations, and their well-being is firmly grounded in tradition and the status quo. As in other Wilson plays, the Midwest in these plays is peopled with somewhat narrow-minded characters who believe in the American dream. An outsider like Matt Friedman in Talley’s Folly threatens the family’s stability, because he brings new ideas, experiences, and expectations that challenge the foundation of their society. Talleys who venture outside Lebanon also bring danger. Because Timmy is killed in the Pacific during World War II, the family business cannot be handed down as expected in Talley and Son. Ken and June, of Fifth of July, have attended Berkeley and nearly lost their regard for the family and the family home. It is only when Ken returns to the Talley home, and is reunited with his Aunt Sally, who never left, that he comes to understand the importance of family ties.


Boathouse. Elaborate and whimsical Victorian structure on the Talley property, the “folly” of Talley’s Folly. The boathouse was built by Sally’s Uncle Whistler, who also built the town’s bandstand. The folly is not only the setting for Sally and Matt’s encounters, but also a representation of what Matt asks Sally to do: to dare to create something unusual and dreamlike in a town that does not understand such things. The fact that Sally is the only member of her family who still visits the boathouse makes it possible for her to meet Matt there undetected, and shows that she is unlike the rest of her family in being able to appreciate the structure’s quirky beauty.

BibliographyBarnett, Gene A. Lanford Wilson. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Useful general interpretations of individual characters, the major themes, and other elements of the Talley plays. Bibliography.Cooperman, Robert. “The Talley Plays and the Evolution of the American Family.” In Lanford Wilson: A Casebook, edited by Jackson R. Bryer. New York: Garland, 1994. Excellent study of the Talley plays, emphasizing the changing social mores affecting the family. Describes Wilson’s trilogy as a history of the American family. Asserts that Fifth of July represents the integration of traditional and modern families and thus offers hope.Herman, William. “Down and Out in Lebanon and New York: Lanford Wilson.” In Understanding Contemporary American Drama. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987. Offers an interpretive and biographical introduction to Wilson. Emphasizes the connections between the plays, which show Wilson’s American optimism. Bibliography.Jacobi, Martin J. “The Comic Vision of Lanford Wilson.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 21, no. 2 (Fall, 1988): 119-134. A general but useful analysis of the comedy in several Wilson plays, including Fifth of July and Talley’s Folly. Focuses primarily on how to classify the plays based on their endings.Martine, James J. “Charlotte’s Daughters: Changing Gender Roles and Family Structures in Lanford Wilson.” In Lanford Wilson: A Casebook, edited by Jackson R. Bryer. New York: Garland, 1994. Analyzes the intersection of changing family and gender roles in the Talley plays. Sees Sally as the central figure of the Talley plays, tracing the evolution of the Talley women from Aunt Lottie to Shirley.Williams, Philip Middleton. A Comfortable House: Lanford Wilson, Marshall W. Mason, and the Circle Repertory Theatre. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1993. Although focuses on the Talley plays, the primary emphasis is on the collaboration between Wilson and Mason. Useful but not heavily interpretive.Witham, Barry B. “Images of America: Wilson, Weller, and Horovitz.” Theatre Journal 34 (1982): 223-232. Concentrates on plays set on Independence Day, comparing Wilson’s Fifth of July to plays by Weller and Horovitz and showing how each writer views American values.
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