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Center Stage

Theatre Midwest enters central Iowa theater scene

5/1/2019

Iowa debut of poignant comedy begins this company’s journey.

“The Friendly Hour” cast: Jami Bassman Ahart (as Dorcas Briggle), Emily Solo (as Effie Voss), Tiffany Flory (as Opal Zweifel), Deidra Mohr (as Isabelle Hagen) and Rebecca Haroldson (as Wava Jamtgaard). Photo by Danille Brown

Written minutes from a women’s social club formed in rural South Dakota in 1934.

A family connection to those notes.

A writer who sees the theatrical magic to be drawn from those historical pages.
Tom Jacobson is the writer, and “The Friendly Hour” is the outcome of chance, insight and talent. His play will make its Iowa debut through the new Theatre Midwest production company.

Women’s clubs were more than a light-hearted social gathering in the early 20th century. They were a way to self-support, especially in the rural parts of America. They were a therapeutic endeavor that created matriarchal bonds where they were very much needed.

Spanning from 1934 to 2008, “The Friendly Hour” distills decades of a cultural-coping sisterhood through the lens of one South Dakota neighborhood club.

“The minutes of the actual Friendly Hour Club meetings were loaned to me by my aunt, Caryl Crozier, whose mother, Elvera Kinkner, was a founding member of the Club in 1934 until the Club was disbanded in 2007,” Jacobson shared. “In addition to the minutes, which invariably ended with ‘and a tasty lunch was served,’ Caryl shared diaries, letters, photographs and crafts related to the Club with me. This wealth of resources gave me many building blocks to create the characters of the play, slightly fictionalized versions of the real South Dakota farm wives who met monthly in each other’s homes.”

Jacobson delves deeper into the timeless appeal to his play’s story.

“The dynamic of 70 years of personal and national history gives the play resonance beyond the South Dakota prairie. It’s an American story for all of us. The intersection of intimate truth with broader issues appealed to me. I wrote it during the Bush era, and the two main characters are in constant (polite, Midwestern) political and social conflict that feels even more polarizing today than it did when it premiered in 2008. The love that binds these friends together could be a model for national healing.”

This story seems a natural selection for Tom Woldt, Theatre Midwest’s founder. Its mission is “Professionals creating works of relevance to the people of the Midwestern United States, with particular attention to the voices of women and under-represented groups.”

For Woldt, who has acted professionally and taught theater for more than 20 years, including 16 years at Simpson College, this is a cultural homecoming.

“All four of my grandparents started out on South Dakota farms and were first or second-generation Norwegians and Danes,” he said.

To help more quickly gain attention to their efforts, Woldt and his company will introduce a new concept for theater patrons: Radical Hospitality (RH).

“The objective (of RH) is to reduce barriers, starting with finance. At least one-fourth of the tickets for each of our performances will be available for free starting 90 minutes before curtain time, first-come, first-served. Theatre Midwest will use an escalating pricing structure for those who can pay: Buyers getting tickets in the first week of sales can get tickets for $10, then in the second week for $20, and then $30 for the remaining time through the run. We also will offer group discounts for 10 or more people.”

Through Jacobson’s insightful storytelling and Woldt’s creative acumen, central Iowa audiences are in for a performance treat with “The Friendly Hour.” Good historical stories transport modern relevance from their times, and this show will resonate. As Backstage described, “These powerful Midwestern survivors are the stoic Americans to celebrate and honor, something (playwright) Jacobson has accomplished with his lyrical, sweetly bucolic text.”

Visit https://www.theatremidwest.org/ to learn more and order tickets for this landmark debut in the Viking Theater at Grand View University.

SECOND CITY RETURNS FOR A THREE-WEEK RUN AT THE TEMPLE THEATER

“It’s Not You, It’s Me. The Second City” is another laugh-a-minute romp through America’s most iconic comedy brand, Second City. This show draws audiences in through a series of sketches that take shots at heartbreak, missed connections and the mire of human relationships as only Second City can deliver.

OVERHEARD IN THE LOBBY

“School of Rock,” national tour, Des Moines Performing Arts (through May 5); “Silent Sky,” Des Moines Playhouse (May 31 – June 16); “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” Second City, Temple for Performing Arts (through May 19); “Disgraced,” Iowa Stage Theatre Company, Kum & Go Theater (May 10-19); “The Insane Root,” Scriptease, Iowa Stage Theatre Company, Kum & Go Theater (May 12); “The Friendly Hour,” Theatre Midwest (May 9-12); “Ella Enchanted,” musical, Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre/Des Moines Playhouse (May 3-12). ♦

John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.

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