9/29/2019        THE SAVANNAH SIPPING SOCIETY                      Stage Door Players

A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS

 

Let me get my bias out of the way up front. I am not a huge fan of the plays of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten.  I usually find them shallow "joke factories," filled with clichéd characters, totally lacking the "Southern Charm" they purport to celebrate.

That being said, I found Stage Door's production of The Savannah Sipping Society an aberration in their "oeuvre." It has four women who find the joy of life as elusive as a cool day in a southern summer, and decide to have an impromptu "happy hour."  Strangers at first, they let their friendship build over the course of a few months until they are all ready to face whatever life wants to toss in their direction.

Randa is a single career woman who has been replaced at her high-stakes architecture firm by a younger man.  Dot is a recent widow struggling with failing eyesight and trying to live alone in an unfamiliar city.  Marlafaye is a transplant from Texas, trying to get as far from her cheating husband as she can.  And Jinx is a "free spirit," flitting about the country to follow (or escape) whatever man is in her life, now in Savannah to be with her sister.

After an agonizing try at "Hot Yoga," they meet and bond over a "comfort doll" that lets them vent all their angers and frustrations.  Since Randa lives a block away, they decide to meet for drinks and thus starts a ritual that leads to the best friendships they've ever had.  Through the course of many months they each go through changes and heartbreaks, successes and 

failures.  And we get to know them and feel actual affection for them.  Imagine!  Feeling affection for Hopes-Jones-Wooten characters!

Unfortunaely, the production is a bit hamstrung by some questionable design choices.  Chuck Welcome's set -- Randa's elegant verada -- is attractive, but makes little architectural sense.  It's like the end result of a collision between a gazebo and a front porch.  Attractive "plantation charm" columns are a good look, but they are also a significant sight-line challenge, especially for audience members on the sides.  Since most of the blocking seems to be of the "sit on the porch and talk" variety, we are too often left with long stretches of talking pillars.  J.D. Williams' lights are also a bit of a nuisance, giving everything a "same look" feel that doesn't reflect time of day in the least (and there are scenes occurring in both day and night).  A few "away from the veranda" scenes also leave the main set in full illumination, though Mr. Williams does nicely find several solo spots to highlight each character as they address us directly, a device to transition between scenes that is actually clever and effective.   Imagine!  Something clever and effective in a Hopes-Jones-Wooten comedy!

On the other hand, Jim Alford's costumes are a joy to behold, truly evocative of character and place, including a set of Renaissance Faire pieces that beautifully reflect a non-professional who-cares-what-era-this is approach to Ren-Faire-ing.

But this play belongs to the ladies.  Nancy Lowery Powell (Randa), Patty Guenther (Dot), Suzanne Roush (Marlafaye) and Karen Whitaker (Jinx) grab our attention from the start, creating a quartet of women with a wide range of aspects and levels, frustrations and idiosyncrasies, and patterns of speech.  They gel perfectly as an ensemble, and, if I

may be so bold, are totally responsible for the boatload of charm that droops like Spanish moss from this production.

I've actually met Hope, Jones, and Wooten and they all seem like intelligent and pleasant people.  But their plays (especially those involving the Futrelle sisters) can be a chore for me, despite their immense popularity (especially here in the south).  The Savannah Sipping Society however, seems to be an exception, a nicely-constructed study in character that provides nice challenges for actresses of my generation.  Yes, there are also a lot of jokes that seem to be "shoe-horned" in, but, for once, none of them grate by relying on cliché and stereotype, and several that are just laugh-out-loud funny.  

My favorite is "Did you know that women with a few extra pounds {Remainder of joke deleted by the Spoiler Police}.  It all goes down smoothlier than a cold glass of mead after a salty Turkey Leg at a White-Hot Renaissance Faire.  

     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy    #SDPSavannahSippingSociety )

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