The Friendly Hour
- By gentleguide
- On Sat 04 may 2019
There’s a new face in the area theatre scene. TheatreMidwest presents The Friendly Hour, opening May 9 and running for one weekend at the Viking Theatre at Grand View University. With a focus on representing life in the midwest and giving voice to women and other under-represented groups, the organization’s choice of inaugural presentation is telling.
The Friendly Hour is the story of a women’s group in South Dakota, and is taken from 70 years of history and the records of their meetings. We see the changes in society and in attitudes through the cast of five women (one of whom plays multiple roles). Growth, compassion, challenges, and simple connection are all on display, as these women face battles large and small through the years. Usually alongside a tasty lunch....
“I play Effie Voss for the entire show, from the ages of 22 to 95,” says Emily Solo, one of the five terrific actresses bringing The Friendly Hour to life. “She's a farm wife of Norwegian descent, with, shall we say, a strong personality. Though at times she is accused of being unkind, she asserts that she is simply straightforward. She is honest and loyal, but Effie can still sometimes rub her friends the wrong way. This becomes a recurring plot device, as this close group of friends has to navigate personal differences over the years. Though there is no true antagonist in the show - Effie is the closest to it. This also provides opportunity for the group to reconcile, laugh, reflect.”
Deidra Mohr plays multiple parts in the show. “Each woman definitely undergoes an arc of discovery to who they are,” she says. “Family dynamic, societal pressures, class issues, religion, politics... these issues did and still do persist. As for how dealing with it has changed, I think these women were extremely smart in their ability to state their piece or opinion without blatantly saying their true feelings. Everyone in the town talked, being a smaller community, and the art of talking ‘around’ an issue and getting your two cents in was clearly a skill they had honed to a fine edge.”
When looking at the social dynamics of the ladies in The Friendly Hour, the surprising thing isn’t how the world has become different over the 70 years of the show. It’s how the people have remained the way they always have been. “I was completely, finger-waggingly disturbed in places about how little we've learned from mistakes of the past,” says Jami Bassman Ahart, who plays Dorcas. “This will certainly vary with each viewers own beliefs and values. I don't think there's many smacks in the face specific to women issues. I just think this is a beautiful, fly-on-the-wall look into the strengths, vulnerabilities, humor and tenacity of this group of ladies.”
Ahart continues, “I believe anyone living here now or having lived here in the past will "know" at least 4 of these women! Each of us has shared a story or two or ten about Aunt Betty or Grandma Ruth or whoever that woman we knew who did that thing or held that belief, or whatever it was. There were just so many connections and it's my hope that this is what our audience will experience, as well. The mission of Theatre Midwest is unique and brilliant and I really hope I do this one right so I can get to tell some more of these wonderful stories!”
TheatreMidwest Artistic Director Tom Woldt is hoping the new organization will be able to fulfill a few priorities, and The Friendly Hour is just a first step. “As we find ourselves involved in a deepening state of cultural upheaval, telling great and pertinent stories seems both useful and necessary. The Friendly Hour looks at rural ‘farm-life’ topics, which is a great place for us to start, but we do not anticipate all ‘farmer’ plays going forward. Historical foundation stories are crucial to the narrative of the Midwest, but we also know that, contrary to some conventional wisdom (often ‘coastal’,) life in the Midwest involves as wide a range of social, political, economic, and behavioral complexities as anywhere else. As TheatreMidwest assesses the cultural climate going forward, we will continue to look to new works and voices, while also excavating ‘classics’ whose times have arrived (or re-arrived.)”
One of the first people connected with TheatreMidwest was Tiffany Flory. Flory is a member of the IowaStage company of players, and recently performed with Tallgrass Theatre Company last fall in The Foreigner. “When Tom first approached me about his company, I was immediately on board with his mission to heavily include women and other under-represented groups. With this specific production, most everyone involved in the production team are female. Our set designer, our tech director, even our production manager are all women. When I look at the theaters around the Des Moines area, most of those positions are all held by men and this company makes it refreshing. I'm excited to see what other opportunities this company will explore to give other minority groups a chance to participate in theatre.”
“My personal mission with being a part of this production is that I truly believe in the Theatre Community we are building in Des Moines. We have good theatre programs here (Drake, Simpson, ISU, etc.), and a lot of these individuals want to leave to go to Chicago and New York. However, we have something growing here in Iowa that hopefully will one day be able to support artists financially as well as be a competitor with other theatre communities (like the Twin Cities). I have seen productions in some of these cities, and we have the talent, the commitment, and the quality to rival these other cities and we just need to stand up and show it. Be proud of what we have already accomplished and what we still have to accomplish for theatre to grow in the Des Moines area. I support the idea to start up more theatre companies to help convince the young and talented theatre majors to stay here, as well as, start to convince other theatre majors to make the move to Iowa when starting their career.”
The beginning of TheatreMidwest, and their inaugural production of The Friendly Hour, is the first step on that journey. You can be a part of it when The Friendly Hour performs in the Viking Theatre at Grand View University May 9 through 12. Tickets are available through the TheatreMidwest website (and also check out their Radical Hospitality program, helping make theatre more affordable and accessible to all). Plus, there’s a special on tickets for the Mother’s Day performance on May 12, also available at the website.