Review: Drink in Savannah Sipping Society while you can
There is a certain type of comedy that works beautifully for some folks, while leaving others out in the cold.
Thankfully, it appears the Theatre in the Grove's correctly read local audiences after the cast of the Forest Grove company new show, "The Savannah Sipping Society," drew a steady stream of laughter at its first Sunday matinee from an amazingly appreciative audience.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, since at least two other shows by the prolific playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten have also drawn large, happy audiences in the same venue.
Personally, I am not a fan of much of this type of Southern humor (a notable exception was Theatre in the Grove's production of "Dixie Swim Club"). That said, I'm still impressed with the production. Director Jeanine Stassens, her cast and production team are doing everything possible to put lipstick on this particular pig and the result is a very fun show that provides a very entertaining couple of hours.
"The Savannah Sipping Society" is an inoffensive, usually gentle little comedy about four women who find themselves adrift in Savannah, Ga. as they make their way through middle-age, deprived of family through a mixture of life choices, death and infidelity.
Three of the women meet accidentally, in hasty retreat from a hot yoga class that they quickly find is not the answer to their problems. Widowed Dot and angry divorcee Marlafaye invite themselves over for cocktails at the lovely home of Randa, a career-driven architect whose job was her whole life until she lost it: First she lost a promotion, then she lost her temper and, finally, she lost her job.
When her guests arrive, the tightly-wound Randa is in an uproar about her confrontation with a woman who had eight items in the five items quick-check line at the supermarket. Dot has invited a surprise guest, Jinx, who, of course, turns out to be the 8-item scofflaw. Sparks fly at first, but Jinx — a beautician and aspiring life coach — quickly endears herself. Soon fast friends, the four women begin meeting regularly for drinks and adventure, egged on by the ever-exuberant Jinx. Dancing, dating, kvetching and lubricating themselves with new cocktail mixtures throughout as they try to make sense of the next act of their lives.
Tanja Crouch (Randa), Pruella Centers (Marlafaye), Patti Speight (Jinx) and Jeanna Van Dyke (Dot) create four unique characters who, while very different from each other, still meld nicely. There is some real chemistry among the four. Centers is trashily bitter about ex-hubby Waylon and his new trophy wife and she gets a few real zingers in. Her dark explanation of the perfect weight for a man and her tale of Waylon's most spontaneous moment of love-making are delivered with exquisite timing and inflection.
Crouch is suitably buttoned-down and uptight and it's a real treat to watch her gradually open up to her friends and, eventually, to life. Despite the relatively thin emotional depth in the script, Van Dyke evokes both empathy and sympathy in her portrayal of a woman who loved her husband, but wants it clear that her life did not end with his death. Her character's story of how her one and only date went wrong is delivered with quiet and utterly believable dignity and she gets the pathos of advancing blindness just right as she moves from denial to acceptance.
Speight is perfectly cast as Jinx: ebullient, bouncy, and seemingly ultra-confident while hiding her inner emptiness behind a mask of unstoppable enthusiasm.
So, what worked for me? Several things. First, Mark Farris' beautiful set design with its exterior of Randa's lovely home and a gracious verandah, where almost all of the action takes place. Second are the four leads (and Assistant Director Kate Barrett's unheralded cameo). If I'm going to watch a two-hour re-run of The Golden Girls, this is the group I want to see. Third, the lighting and sound design make the single set flexible enough to eliminate the need for major scene changes, fourth are the costumes (ranging from lovely to hysterical) and the hardest working folks in the theater, dressers Gratia Minor and Debbie Davis. Lastly, there is Stassens' direction, who manages to hold it all together and create a fun, if not terribly memorable, show.
Despite my general distaste for the Southern Comedy genre, "The Savannah Sipping Society" as presented at Theater in the Grove provides a solid community theater experience, replete with laughs, so if the story sounds interesting to you then it's definitely worth an afternoon or evening!
"The Savannah Sipping Society" plays at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Ave., in Forest Grove, through June 17 with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
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