The New York Times called Lanford Wilson “one of the few artists of our theater who can truly make America sing.”

Talley’s Folly, Wilson’s 1979 love story about a free-thinking small-town Missouri girl and a Jewish immigrant, is set in the Ozark town of Lebanon, Missouri, where Wilson himself was born in 1937.

Wilson’s parents divorced when he was five. He and his mother moved to Springfield, where she worked in a garment factory. After school, Wilson moved to Chicago and worked in advertising, but signed up for an evening course in play writing at the University of Chicago.

In 1962, Wilson moved to New York. Within a year, his short plays were being produced at Caffe Cino, a downtown coffee house and performance space. At Caffe Cino, Wilson met director Marshall Mason, who would be his artistic collaborator for years.

Together, Wilson and Mason founded the Circle Repertory Company, which would revolutionize off-Broadway theater and develop new work, including Wilson’s plays.

Wilson longed to write a play in his the area where he grew up: “The sound of Missouri— I know that better than I know anything,” he said. His play, Fifth of July, is set in his home town: Lebanon, MO.

Fifth of July, the play that inspired Talley’s Folly, takes place in July, 1977. Sally, now a widow of 64, carries a candy box lied with the ashes of her late husband, Matt Friedman. The actress playing Sally asked Wilson to help her imagine who Matt had been. Wilson suggested actor Judd Hirsch. That conversation inspired Wilson to write a new play, about Sally and Matt, that became Talley’s Folly – which starred Judd Hirsch as Matt. In 1980, Talley's Folly was award the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Lanford Wilson

by Lanford Wilson
December 2–18
Cheek Theatre

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