Talley’s Folly


Talley’s Folly, written by Lanford Wilson and directed by Michael Wilson begins performances this week.

I’m sure that Lanford was more surprised than anyone when, in 1980, Talley’s Folly became not only the biggest hit of his career but the play that would win him the Pulitzer Prize. There he was, a playwright known for popularizing the off-off-Broadway movement, hailed for his gritty tales of people on the margins of society, renowned for his collaborative ensemble work – and he was receiving his greatest acclaim for a two-character play that can only be defined as a romance.

In a way, it makes sense that writing Talley’s Folly was actually never in Wilson’s original plans; in fact he never set out to write what has become known today as his masterful “Talley Trilogy,” the series of three plays telling the story of the Talley family of Lebanon, Missouri. It all began with Wilson’s strong desire to write a play that reflected his feelings about American reactions to the end of the Vietnam War. He was frustrated to see that many people were so relieved to have the war over that they were inclined to sweep the entire experience under the rug and quickly move on. But while teaching a class on playwriting, Wilson met a man who had lost his legs in Vietnam, and it hit him that for so many veterans, moving on would be anything but simple. From this connection, Wilson began to write Fifth of July, a story set in 1977 of a paraplegic Vietnam veteran returned to his ancestral home as various family members battled over what to do with the house and their lives in the new America they found themselves living in.

That family would become the Talleys, and Wilson soon found himself unexpectedly placing them in a familiar location. As he has written, “The play would be one of restoration and commitment. Something the country sorely needed. I was almost surprised when I realized that the play had to be set in my hometown of Lebanon, Missouri. This had to be about the heartland.” And while he was always known for his ability to write the cadences of authentic conversation, Wilson outdid himself by capturing the people and sounds of his own home in a way that was clearly something special.

Even as Fifth of July was meeting with success, there was still no trilogy planned. But then Helen Stenborg, the actress playing the old aunt Sally Talley in Fifth of July, asked Wilson about Matt Friedman, the man her character reminisces about for much of that play. She wondered what he would have been like – and soon Wilson himself began wondering as well. He wrote, “That was the genesis of Talley’s Folly. Imagining Matt and Sally on a date – this big, sexy, clumsy Jew coming from St. Louis down to Lebanon, Missouri, where nobody had ever seen a Jew before – was very exciting. I knew immediately that I wanted this to be unlike anything I had written.”

Thus, Wilson began to write a play that both he and his characters would refer to as a “valentine.” It would be set in 1944, his first venture into writing any period but his own, and he would endeavor to write the play as though it had been written in that time. Because it was such a departure for the playwright, he even chose to open the play with the character of Matt assuring the audience that this is going to be a love story, a romantic “waltz,” as he puts it. When you look at Talley’s Folly, it’s truly hard to imagine that Wilson didn’t begin with these characters of Matt and Sally as his centerpiece in the first place. They are rich, beautifully drawn people, still in some ways outsiders like so many of those he has written, and also created in a way that you cannot picture the Talley family without them.

And once he had Sally and Matt, Wilson had to keep going – there was so much left to be explored. So he stayed in 1944 and wrote the play Talley & Son, to take place simultaneously with the action in Talley’s Folly, following the Talley family members up at the main house while the pair of tentative lovers was circling each other down at the boathouse. It’s a gorgeously complete picture. Wilson’s achievement is not just to have these plays stand up as outstanding works on their own, but to have them become so much more when viewed side by side. It may have been an accidental trilogy, but it is one that will help to define the legacy of this brilliant playwright.

It’s been more than 30 years since the original production of Talley’s Folly first hit the stage. But with Lanford Wilson’s passing in 2011, I’m so happy to be giving his masterpiece its first ever New York revival. It seems right that one of the first productions here since we lost Lanford should be of a play that was so close to home for him. I have great faith that with director Michael Wilson (no relation to Lanford, I should mention) and the wonderful pair of Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson, we will do right by this lovely valentine of a play.

I hope that you’ll find yourself falling for Matt, Sally, and the Talley clan the way I have. I’m truly eager to hear what you think, so please remember to email me with your thoughts at I always appreciate getting your feedback.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!


Todd Haimes
Artistic Director

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2012-2013 Season, From Todd Haimes, Talley's Folly

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A Conversation with Actor: Danny Burstein

Posted on: February 4th, 2013 by Roundabout


Before rehearsals began for Talley’s Folly, Education Dramaturg Ted Sod interviewed Actor Danny Burstein about the role of Matt Friedman.


Ted Sod: Tell us about yourself. Where were you born and educated?

Danny Burstein:
I was born in Mount Kisco, New York—although my family was living in the Bronx at the time. That's just where I decided to be born. When I was 14, I was lucky enough to get into the High School of Performing Arts. The year I auditioned, more than 4,000 kids auditioned. By some stroke of luck, I was one of the 128 that made it in, which started me on my path to being an actor. I never thought I actually could be an actor. I was always pretty shy and quiet. But I loved the theatre—my dad gave me many plays and books to read. The dramatic form just spoke to me. After high school, I went to Queens College. I studied with Edward M. Greenberg, who ran The Muny (The Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis). When I was 19, he gave me my Equity card. After Queens College, I got into the Masters program at the University of California San Diego. I promised my parents—who were both teachers—that I would get my Masters so I could teach if this silly little acting thing didn't work out. I spent three years working in San Diego at the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse. I came back to New York City in 1990 after graduating from the University of California San Diego. I had a teaching job waiting for me at Queens College. I taught for a semester, but couldn't work out my teaching schedule with my acting schedule because they just didn't jive. So, I had to make a decision. And by sheer luck, I'm sure, I have not stopped working as an actor.


TS: Tell us about your decision to do Talley’s Folly?

DB: I was asked by director Michael Wilson and Todd Haimes, Artistic Director, if I wanted to do the role. I said, “Of course I do!” They asked if I would be willing to do double duty for a couple of weeks, rehearsing during the last three weeks of the run of Golden Boy. I said, “Absolutely.” I have great respect for Michael Wilson and I'm a huge fan of Sarah Paulson.


TS: What do you make of the character you will play—Matt Friedman?

DB: He is a good man and a lonely soul. Deep down he wants to give his love to someone and be loved in return. But he doesn't have much hope that it will ever happen. And then by some miracle, some “mischievous angel,” as he calls it, sends him on a vacation to Lebanon, Missouri and he meets this girl, Sally Talley. I think deep down he had probably given up hope that there would ever be someone that would fall in love with him.


TS: Why do you think he picks Sally? It's fascinating that a Jewish man at that time would go after someone whose family is obviously anti-Semitic.

DB: Sally is smart, has gone to school, and is independent. I think that really strikes a chord with him. She's not like the average gal from the neighborhood. Part of it is his great intuition and part of it is he has convinced himself she's the right one for him. He says, “This is the only time I've ever been in love,” and I think he probably feels if it doesn't happen tonight, that's it.

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2012-2013 Season, A Conversation with, Talley's Folly


A Conversation with Actor: Sarah Paulson

Posted on: February 4th, 2013 by Roundabout


Before starting rehearsals for Talley’s Folly, Sarah Paulson spoke with Education Dramaturg Ted Sod about preparing to play Sally Talley.


Ted Sod: Can you give us some background information on yourself?

Sarah Paulson: I was born in Tampa, Florida, but my mother moved us to New York City when I was five years old. I lived in Queens, Gramercy Park, on West 11th St, and we ended up settling in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for many years. I went to Performing Arts High School, right behind Lincoln Center. I feel like I wanted to be an actress in the womb—I just came out that way. I don't understand how or why we have these impulses. Being able to make a living doing it is such a gift.


TS: Was your mom supportive?

SP: Absolutely. I remember she hooked me up with some friend of hers whose son went to Performing Arts High School. He walked me around the school when I had to audition there. I was all of 14 years old. My mom was very supportive. Although, I will say, when I got my first job and I told my mother I got the job, her reaction was, “Oh no, you're actually going to do this?”


TS: So, you went right to work after high school?

SP: Yes, right out of high school I did Talking Pictures, a Horton Foote play at the Signature Theatre. I did a “Law & Order” episode, and then a movie of the week for Hallmark with Kathleen Turner playing my mother. I went to North Carolina for a TV series entitled “American Gothic”, which was cancelled rather quickly. But then I was flown to LA to audition for a pilot for CBS, and I remember testing against Hilary Swank. I got the job, but things worked out well for her so I don’t feel too bad.

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Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, A Conversation with, Talley's Folly