What's wonderful about Word for Word's latest production, "In Friendship" — an elegant, verbatim staging of several linked short stories by early-20th-century writer Zona Gale — is not so much the stories themselves but rather the magnificent performances.
Composed mostly of women who have been together as a collaborative company for 20 years now, Word for Word is our only local literary theater troupe, and one of very few such ensembles in the country.
Gale's stories were chosen to celebrate Word's anniversary and the members' long-lasting friendships. It is also meant to showcase the talents of the entire charter group, which has not appeared onstage together in 10 years.
So despite the fact that Gale's writing is not as freshly imagined, nuanced and luminous as some of the many other authors whose works the company has presented over the years, it's a fitting choice.
And, as directed by Delia MacDougall and Joel Mullennix (who also appear in the cast), it's exquisitely performed by the 11 actors, who mostly play multiple roles.
The production values, too — especially the gorgeous period costumes by Laura Hazlett — are first class.
Set in fictional Friendship Village in the Midwest, the stories were initially serialized in magazines. With humor and empathy, Gale traced the lives of the various citizens — their heartaches, their allegiances and quarrels — as seen through the eyes of a narrator, played here with soft-spoken grace by Susan Harloe.
The stories also presented Gale's progressive ideas about women's suffrage, hints of which appear in these particular stories.
In one, the local laundress (JoAnne Winter) arranges a "day-boo"— a coming-out party — for her spinster daughter (Stephanie Hunt), but the plans go awry thanks to a rival party organized by the village's self-satisfied and aristocratic Mis' Postmaster Sykes (Nancy Shelby), and to the daughter's own conflicting plans for her life.
In another story, a know-it-all, controlling newcomer (Hunt) manages to antagonize the entire village, to great comic effect.
In the last and most affecting story, plainspoken Calliope (Jeri Lynn Cohen) plans a Thanksgiving feast for the village's sick and poor — realizing soon enough that there are no sick or poor in affluent Friendship Village. However, there are many lonely souls.
With additional roles played by Amy Kossow, Sheila Balter, Patricia Silver and Paul Finocchiaro, this "Friendship" offers such meticulously etched individual characters that the acting transcends the material and is itself the show's utterly satisfying raison d'etre.
Presented by Word for Word
Where: Z Below, 470 Florida St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 8
Contact: (866) 811-4111, zspace.org