Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Another critic sees the light concerning TALLEY'S FOLLY

I've written on several occasions on this blog that TALLEY'S FOLLY presents a bully/stalker as the hero. And theater people, being loyal and sentimental about all their old beloved hits just don't want to hear it.

But as I've discussed in a previous blog post, critics, slowly but surely, are coming around. And I've discovered the most advanced come to Jesus moment for a critic's view of TALLEY'S FOLLY yet:
In the 21st century, an insistent suitor like Matt might be perceived as a stalker of sorts. He brought Sally home from a dance the year before and they dated for a week. He is Jewish, she is not, and after she introduced him to her family, the objections were so vociferous that she decided not to continue the relationship. Still, he wrote to her almost daily. He visited the hospital at one point, and when told she wasn’t there that day, he waited anyway. So, by now, he has essentially forced this meeting. 
As it happens, he does know best in this situation and Sally is her own worst emotional enemy. But it takes some pretty strong persuasion including a bit of manhandling that didn’t set as well with me as it did 30 years ago (when I probably didn’t even notice it), but Sally isn’t timid about fighting back, so that helps alleviate my discomfort with their physical interactions. Both tell their life stories to the other, and it is clear that during their brief relationship in the past, they had not been honest about what they have lived through to get to this point.
Now this isn't entirely ground-breaking - the critic will invariably say something along the lines of "in the good old days Matt wasn't considered a stalker, but nowadays..." but the critic, a woman writing in 2012, actually says
" takes some pretty strong persuasion including a bit of manhandling that didn’t set as well with me as it did 30 years ago (when I probably didn’t even notice it)"
And she ends the review with:
I may not love Talley’s Folly as I once did, but I certainly do admire this production because of the talents of those who made it happen. It is especially good to see Maguire back on stage. It’s been a while, and she has been missed.
Now this IS progress - she actually admits she has reassessed the play because she realizes, after 30 years, that maybe, just maybe, it isn't all that romantic and charming to have the hero of the play act like a thug.

There's one line that she uses though, that is another piece of evidence to bolster my argument that the underlying attitude of the play is that bitches is crazy and you have to take them in hand and tell them what to do. The critic says:
As it happens, he does know best in this situation and Sally is her own worst emotional enemy.
Of course the man knows what's best for Sally. He's a man, and if stalking her, spying on her through her aunt, insulting her family and community and "manhandling" her is what's needed to get her to fall in line, well that's what a man's gotta do some time. And Sally's a hot little piece eleven years his junior - what do you expect a man to do?

And he's the victim of anti-Semitism so he's the underdog here, not the woman. We should just be grateful the stage directions don't have him haul off and give her a good hard bitch slap to bring the hysterical broad to her senses.

One of the classic signs of Matt's stalkertude is his refusal to stop writing to Sally after she told him to stop. The fact that he continues writing anyway is declared "brave" by the entry on the play in Wikipedia and romantic, still, by most critics.

Just for comparison, this is what a real woman who got persistent unwanted email felt about it, in the immortal essay Schrodinger's Rapist:
There’s a man with whom I went out on a single date—afternoon coffee, for one hour by the clock—on July 25th. In the two days after the date, he sent me about fifteen e-mails, scolding me for non-responsiveness. I e-mailed him back, saying, “Look, this is a disproportionate response to a single date. You are making me uncomfortable. Do not contact me again.” It is now October 7th. Does he still e-mail? 
Yeah. He does. About every two weeks. 
This man scores higher on the threat level scale than Man with the Cockroach Tattoos. (Who, after all, is guilty of nothing more than terrifying bad taste.) You see, Mr. E-mail has made it clear that he ignores what I say when he wants something from me. Now, I don’t know if he is an actual rapist, and I sincerely hope he’s not. But he is certainly Schrödinger’s Rapist, and this particular Schrödinger’s Rapist has a probability ratio greater than one in sixty. Because a man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well.
But - but - that attitude is just so UNROMANTIC! 

One of the horrifying aspects of arguing with people who love TALLEY'S FOLLY is that you come to realize how deep their misogyny is. It's not fashionable these days to come right out and support male dominance, but the attitudes are all there, unexpressed and festering and as people defend the play, those attitudes are revealed.

Last summer I got into an argument with an actor over the play, as described in Bitches is Crazy Part 2 and he basically said the same thing - Matt had to restrain Sally and cover her mouth when she tried to call for help because, although the actor allowed that  Sally didn't actually want her brothers to shoot Matt, she was too emotional to know what she was doing and Matt knew better than her what her own brothers would do to him. Of course the reason she became emotional was because she told Matt to leave and he refused. Because he knew she really wanted it.

Now the playwright could have had Matt show some respect and leave the boathouse, albeit reluctantly when Sally told him to, and then Sally could have called him back, which would have made her feelings clear. But of course that would be out of character for Matt - he's already ignored every other "no" she's given him. And besides, why give Sally any agency when your real message is this:
Men know what's best for women, because bitches is crazy
Case closed.

I found it vastly amusing that Charles Isherwood's review in the NYTimes of the Roundabout production, opening this week, uses the word "stalk" twice - once in "stalk of wheat" and the other in "keep Sally from stalking off" but somehow misses describing Matt for what he really is.