Playwright Tom Jacobson finds greatness in the “small” lives of a group of South Dakota housewives in his newest play, The Friendly Hour, being given a splendid World Premiere Production at the always splendid The Road Theater.

Dorcas, Effie, Isabelle, Opal, and Wava are scarcely out of their teens when we first meet them in 1934 at the first meeting of “The Friendly Hour,” a circle of friends formed to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other “fun things.”  Only two nonagenarians remain at the very last Friendly Hour meeting, held in 2007 in a nursing home in Beresford, South Dakota. Over the course of two acts and 73 years, and thanks to Jacobson’s incisive and affectionate writing and five exquisite performances, we come to know these women and their lives—and to love them as if they were our own family.

At the very first meeting, rules are set up. There will be dues, and officers.  Activities are decided upon. (They practice bird calls.)  And because of a heavy snowfall, the meeting turns into a sleepover.  At a later meeting, there’s dancing, though Effie (the curmudgeon of the group) does not approve of women dancing together.  Nonsense, declares new member Lucille.  Dancing with another girl is “better than any smelly old man.”

At a Christmas 1945 meeting, with the war now over, the women talk about their dreams, which include an electric sewing machine, a reliable cure for constipation, and mountains, because “how can you stand so much flatland?” In 1953, the day’s topic is “What To Do On A Snowy Day,” and in 1963, they each reveal their “Most Embarrassing Moment.”  In 1969, they wonder “What would you say to God if you met him?”, to which a smug Effie naturally responds that she already talks to Him every day. Newest member Elvira has brought her collection of rocks and  40,000-year-old fossils collection as the day’s entertainment, but Effie declares that fossils are “just planted there to confuse us—by the devil.”  (Sarah Palin would be proud.)

And every monthly meeting ends with the following words, spoken in cheery unison, “And a tasty lunch was served.”

Playwright Jacobson has based The Friendly Hour on family stories about the original Dorcas and her own Friendly Hour group.


The writer is probably best known for two of The Road’s most memorable productions, the award-winning Ouroboros and Bunbury, both of which played with time in the most imaginative of ways. Here he focuses on character development, on creating a diverse group of women who win our hearts. Opal is the sweet and sensible German girl. Dorcas is the progressive one, who at one point advises uptight, judgmental Effie that “now would be a good time to be a Christian.”  (It fun to watch the friction which inevitably occurs whenever these two women are in the same room.) Dorcas’s sister, the facially scarred Wava, is the shy one, “The Friendly Hour” allowing her to be around people who don’t stare. Isabelle is a recent immigrant from Sweden, who becomes Americanized (and learns English) over the course of the years.

As always, The Road has assembled a sensational cast—Deana Barone as Opal, Mara Marini as Wava, Kate Mines as Effie, Ann Noble as Dorcas, and (having the most fun of all) Bettina Zacar, who gets to play Swedish Isabelle (“So sorry.  No English.”), Lucille, cowhand Irene, cousin Elvira, and Edna from Oklahoma (“Today I’m going to show you how to use an electric knife … and freeze food!”).  Not only do these actresses create distinct, three-dimensional characters whom we come to know and care about, they also deserve highest marks for their nuanced depiction of characters’ aging process (with the aid of various wigs and a cane or two, but no old age makeup).  After seeing The Friendly Hour, it will be hard for anyone to see an elderly person without being able to imagine the young girl or boy they once were.

Jacobson’s Bunbury was nominated for a GLAAD award, and The Friendly Hour, while none of its main characters (with the possible exception of butch Irene) is gay, could get equal recognition from PFLAG for its depiction of Dorcas’s journey upon learning that her only child, the brilliant Gwyneth, is lesbian.  If only every parent struggling with coming to grips with having a gay child could say, as Dorcas does, “I prayed for a miracle, and a miracle occurred. God changed me,” the world would be a much better place.

Director Mark Bringelson also helmed Bunbury, and once again here he has guided his cast to memorable characterizations.  Desma Murphy’s beautiful non-literal set design, which serves as the home of all the women, has been exquisitely lit by Derrick McDaniel. Lisa D. Burke’s decades-spanning costumes are character and era perfect. Sound designer Christopher Moscatiello has composed delicately evocative original music.

Effie describes “The Friendly Hour” as “something to believe in when everything else lets you down.” If only we all could be as lucky as these women were, what more could we ask for?

Well, perhaps a tasty lunch might hit the spot.

The Road Theatre Company, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
September 12, 2008
 Photos: Matt Kaiser

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