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by Hope, Jones, and Wooten

Mesquite Community Theatre

Director – Dennis H. Gullion
Assistant Director/Stage Manager – Karen Carboni
Assistant Stage Manager – Maria Golihar
Set Designer – Scott Croy
Lighting Designer – Victor Carboni
Light & Sound Operator – Scott Croy
Props – Emily Reyna Croy
Hair & Makeup – Brent Edmondson

Dot Haigler – Emily Reyna Croy
Randa Covington – Judy Perser
Marlafaye Mosley – Julie Phillips
Jinx Jenkins – Cheray Williams
Grandmother – Cecelia Kay Riggle

Reviewed Performance: 2/17/2019

Reviewed by Carol St George, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Two middle aged women walk into a yoga juice bar…. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Actually, it’s two women dragging their bone-weary bodies out of a yoga studio, where they are soon joined by a third frazzled yoga novice, and all three commence to commiserate. That’s how The Savannah Sipping Society begins, and with the Southern drawls and sassy cracks about exercise, exes, and other things women of a certain age joke about with each other, we know we’re in for a couple of hours of menopausal memes.

That’s just what this Mesquite Arts Theatre production is, and it reminded me of Steel Magnolias or a Golden Girls episode. But even if the formula is familiar, the play is funny and doesn’t fail to entertain. Indeed, the men in the audience enjoyed it (although I’m not sure it would play for millennial males).

The script by Hope, Jones, and Wooten is full of one-line Southernisms, tossed off mostly effortlessly by Emily Reyna Croy, Judy Perser, Julie Phillips, and Cheray Williams. The three women we meet in the first scene, Dot (Croy), Randa (Perser), and Marlafaye (Phillips) are strangers who become friends by happenstance and mutual hatred of hot yoga. A few days later they end up on Randa’s patio (“Randa’s veranda”) sealing their bond over drinks and cheese. They’re soon joined by Jinx Jenkins (Cheray Williams), a manicurist who has been casually invited to join the happy hour by one of the “girls.” As the booze and stories flow, Jinx has the idea to serve as her new friends’ “life coach,” a profession she has aspired to but lacks any training or experience. It’s sort of a trial run.

Director Dennis Gullion has his actors play their characters broadly, which fits their brassy Southern characters and the quippy script. Occasionally performances bubble over the top, especially in the first act. But by Act II, the actors have settled into their characters’ skins. The ensemble appears comfortable with each other, and their movements are well-timed. Plus the Jones, Hope, and Wooten script gives them lots to work with.

Speaking of the playwrights – Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten – they have written comedy for TV, Off Broadway, and movies, and are known for creating strong female roles. Their comedies include The Dixie Swim Club, Dearly Beloved, Christmas Belles, The Red Velvet Cake War, and Always a Bridesmaid. Wooten wrote and produced many seasons of The Golden Girls, where he won the Writers Guild of America award, so the resemblance to The Savannah Sipping Society is not surprising. Spunky, outspoken women characters are the group’s stock in trade.

Interestingly, Cheray Williams as Jinx plays a slightly more reserved character. While the other three prance around oozing oversized personalities, Williams, as their life-coach-in-training, has a quieter presence. Of these big personalities, Croy’s Dot is the biggest and could have scaled back in my opinion. (I wanted to trim some of the fat from her thick-as-gravy performance and add it to Jinx’s.) But it could be that Williams was saving herself for an emotional self-reflective monologue late in Act II that is the show’s most touching scene, and she nails it.

I have to give the ensemble credit. With four strong women on stage for most of the action, there could have been an obvious competition. But truly embracing the cooperative ensemble playbook, they exist symbiotically, successfully playing off instead of out-playing each other.

Judy Perser as Randa and Julie Philips as Marlafaye I found to be the most fully formed characters, each dealing with their own midlife baggage, whether as a woman scorned or a professional downsized. It’s hard to say which one has been given the best lines, but both actors had no trouble landing the jokes. And as for the funniest entrance, that award goes to Cecelia Kay Riggle as Randa’s dreaded Grandmother, whose brief and wordless appearance on stage wins plenty of chuckles.

Scott Croy’s set – a wisteria-covered veranda with patio table, chairs, and wood bench – recreates a Southern home’s patio, using the house’s exterior as a backdrop.

If Golden Girls-style humor is your cup of tea, or shot of bourbon as it were, you’ll have a great time at The Savannah Sipping Society. It delivers on laughs and Southern charm. It also succeeds in reminding us that when friends are there for us, we’re never alone. I’ll drink to that.

The Savannah Sipping Society
Mesquite Arts Center
1527 Galloway Avenue
Runs through March 3, 2019