The Friendly Hour

The Friendly Hour
Road Theatre Company



There’s a lot of talk these days about what it means to be an American, but at the root of the issue there’s more to that distinction than political rhetoric and a media-friendly soccer mom with fukcyou eyes and a scary smile to match her agenda. If you’d like to get at look at the kind of strength and stoicism that made our country sturdy before those in power realized how easy a people we are to collectively fool, there’s a better outlet out there these days than tuning in to endless CNN, and that’s amazing local treasure Tom Jacobson’s newest play The Friendly Hour, now making its impressive world premiere at the Road.

This wünderkind playwright, whose award-winning Ouroboros, Tainted Blood and Bunbury (which won Jacobson my TicketHolder Award as Best Playwright of 2005) all debuted at the Road, has paid quintessential service to some real unspoken heroes of America from our less jaded past. Utilizing actual transcripts of minutes from a rural South Dakotan women’s social club formed in 1934 as these plain-talkin’, plain livin’ women gather for monthly meetings, share rock collections and fascinate over the industriousness of ant farms during the “entertainment” segment of their get-togethers, and create “tasty lunches” for one another over the next 70 years when the final two members choose to disband when their golden years begin to tarnish, The Friendly Hour also chronicles the drastic changes in our national history during that period of time.


Clearly, these are familiar people for Jacobson to conjure, as some of his own South Dakotan family members were actually part of The Friendly Hour—the descendants of some even present for the play’s opening night—but that doesn’t mean his play provides a sugary homage. As generally valiant as these women are portrayed, they definitely aren’t faultless creatures, often willing to fight for the wrong ideals over the decades together than to speak out for what is right. As the country and its mores change over the years, so do the members of the club, making an early controversial comment from one transplanted new attendee that Eleanor Roosevelt had balls seem innocent enough until the ladies, now in their advanced 80s, talk about Hillary Clinton as someone who doesn’t like anything regular women do, explaining in their unadorned logic that must be why ol’ Bill “always has that look in his eye.”

As with anything written by Jacobson, the playwright again assigns himself intricate narrative challenges that would have send Williams back to the loonybin, giving his characters a penchant for talking excitedly over one another—that is when they’re not cold-shouldering someone who has made what another club member considers a verbal faux pas. Even when Jacobson’s dialogue is as typically spartan and economical as the down-to-earth lives of these Friendly ladies unfold, under the highly kinetic guidance of director Mark Bringelson, who keeps his actors constantly on the move on Desma Murphy’s impressively roughhewn board game of a set, the ensemble cast of five is simply remarkable.

Ann Noble is the anchor as Dorcus Briggle, a bursting free thinker who fights at every turn with the stiff-backed Effie Voss (Kate Mines), while Opal Zweifel and Wava Jamtgaard (Deana Barone and Mara Marini) work hard to keep the peace. And in a tour de force performance playing about a dozen women who weave in and out of the girls’ circle, Bettina Zacar should get awards just for quick changes, not to even mention her ability to switch from one elaborate character to another.

As is usual with anything debuting from the Road, a company concentrating on new works that suffers its obligatory missteps along with its many, many great successes over the past 17 years, every production value in The Friendly Hour is exemplary, from Derrick McDaniel’s dreamlike lighting to Christopher Moscatiello’s sound design and, most notably, Lisa D. Burke’s incredible costuming which is as impressive in the play’s ever-changing period detailing as it is in its sheer volume. Just how many Road members are backstage providing service as dressers is a piece of information not provided in the show’s program, but the numbers of such volunteers must be legion.


The Friendly Hour’s powerful smalltown survivors are the real strong and stoic American ladies we should all be celebrating and honoring, something Jacobson has done with his unembellished yet lyrical and sweetly bucolic text. Although the narrowed eyes of these fiercely local lifelong friends might be just as revealing as the telltale looks from any current political candidate, their resolve to get through their often exigent smalltown lives despite the odds is infinitely more sincere than anyone we’re asked to accept into our trust today.

The Friendly Hour plays through Nov. 1 at The Road Theatre, located within the Lankershim Arts Center at 5108 Lankershim Bl. in the NoHo Arts District; for tickets, call 866.811.4111, or visit

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.