The Friendly Hour

Tom Jacobson’s lovely new play chronicles the rituals of a women’s club in rural South Dakota from the late 1930s to 2007, and we watch the women with whom we grow increasingly familiar age and engage in theological disputes that are really at the heart of the matter. God’s purpose, and the purpose of community, interweave and clash through the decades, as five fine actors portray many more roles. Leading the pack is Kate Mines’ prickly creationist Effie, and Ann Noble’s proud, forward-thinking Dorcas Briggle, who, had she lived somewhere else, would have joined the Unitarian Church. (Deana Barone, Mara Marine and Bettina Zacar round out the cast.) The play desperately needs pruning — its length is partly responsible for a monochromatic quality that dampens Mark Bringleson’s otherwise animated and tender staging. If this were scaled down to six pointed scenes from its perpetually unrolling carpet of the club’s rites and characters’ domestic crises, the impact of the survivor’s dotage in 2007 could be that much more gripping. Still, Jacobson has put aside the conspicuous cleverness of his past works, Bunbury and Ouroboros, for an impressionistic landscape that straddles the literary worlds of Anton Chekhov and Thornton Wilder. Desma Murphey’s wood-frame set, against which a backdrop of clouds peers through, contains both elegance and allegory, and Lisa D. Burke’s costumes contain similar affection and wit.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Sept. 12. Continues through Nov. 15, 2008