A Charming Production of Zona Gale’s “In Friendship” at Word for Word
The splendid Word for Word Company has just complete their 20th Anniversary Production of Zona Gale’s “In Friendship” at Z Space. For 20 years this marvelous company has brought works of fiction to life onstage without changing a word. Directed by Delia MacDougall and Joel Mullennix “In Friendship” featured the entire Word for Word Core Company of actors and nine of the original founders.
“In Friendship” is a comedy of American manners by Zona Gale who was the first female to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. “In Friendship” is the author stories about a small American town in the beginning of the last century that spoke of the “sodality” of women, of community, democracy and of a group that had been together for many years in good times and bad.
The large cast consisting of Susan Harloe as the narrator, Jeri Lynn Cohen as Calliope Marsh, JoAnn Winter playing several characters, Nancy Shelby as Mis Postmaster Sykes, Amy Kossow as Mis Amanda Toplady, Sheila Balter as a member of the ensemble, Stephanie Hunt playing various characters, Patricia Silver also playing many parts, Delia MacDougall as Lucy Liberty, Joel Mullennix and Paul Finocchiaro playing the male roles gives splendid performances.
The time is the turn of the 20th Century and place is a small town in Wisconsin. Our narrator is a writer (Susan Harloe) who recounts how she arrived for privacy but becomes entangled in the inconsequential trials of small town clutch of women known as the “Married Ladies Cemetery Improvement Sodality”. The comedy/drama begins with “The Debut” in which a barely erudite washerwoman Mrs.Ricker (JoAnn Winter) holds an astonishingly overdue coming out for her 30 year old daughter. However the diligent Ricker is on the lower rung of the social divisions so the town’s pretentious social matron Mis. Postmaster Skyes who is jealous of the lowly Mrs. Ricker decides to one up so she sends out invitations of her own for her party. The narrator who also has a lovely home and this is used as a hinge in the seesaw game of social power.
There is a stimulating protagonist who befriends the narrator throughout the production. She is the no-nonsense Calliope Marsh (Jeri Lynn Cohen) who efficaciously draws her into municipal mishmashes.
In “The Java Entertainment” there is the ambitious but controlling Johnny-come-lately Mrs. Oliver Wheeler Johnson (Stephanie Hunt) who estranges the ladies during a firehouse sale until a “disaster” occurs. The follow up story “The Cold Shoulder” ends the first act charmingly as the gossipy women are forced to scrutinize their conclusions of Mrs. Johnson.
Following the intermission of the two hour and fifteen minute production is a combination of two stories has Calliope planning a huge Thanksgiving dinner for the destitute and hungry folks of the village. There is one problem; the village doesn’t have needy and hungry folks. However the anguished and attractive Delia MacDougall who plays one of the three Liberty sisters: with their parents dead, the sisters join in the cooking as a way to re-engage for Thanksgiving.
All give excellent performances especially Jeri Lynn Cohen who plays the clipped, practical Calliope Marsh who has some of the best lines such as describing Mis Sykes “would wear fur in August to prove she could afford to have moths”. Susan Harlow gives a impressive performance as the narrator while Amy Kossow’s as the self-important Amanda Toplady blends bleakness and humor perfectly. Delia MacDougall shines as Lucy Liberty. Stephanie Hunt, Patricia Silver and Nancy Shelby all give splendid performances.
Giulio Perrone’s plain, white sets of moving cubicles go well against Laura Hazlett’s colorful costumes of the beginning of the 20th Century warn by the actors. The set is attractively lit by Jim Cave.
“In Frendship” closed on September 13th at Z Space, 470 Florida, San Francisco.