Debbie King-Raque, Jillian Prefach, Tina Jo Wallace, & Melissa Combs. Photo: DDP
The Savannah Sipping Society
By Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten
Directed by Georgette Kleier
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
The Derby Dinner Playhouse certainly knows what their audience wants, and as a result, we get another in the long line of Southern-fried comedies from what seems to be their go-to playwriting team, the trio known collectively as Jones Hope Wooten. That’s not a dig on the Playhouse; Jones Hope Wooten’s plays are not particularly smart, but they are usually quite funny and you can tell the actors are enjoying being in them as much as we enjoy watching them.
Currently on display for our viewing pleasure is The Savannah Sipping Society. The plot involves a group of four women who meet cute at an unbearable Hot Yoga class. They agree to an impromptu gathering for socializing and libation on the verandah of one of the ladies’ homes, which turns into a regular gathering over the months that follow. The plot is mostly a series of vignettes and monologues, but there is a through line tying it all together.
Each of the ladies comes with backstories and lives in a crisis that comes straight from a playwright’s wish list. Randi (Jillian Preach) is a workaholic who suddenly finds herself unemployed, and realizes she has no life outside of her work. Dot (Debbie King-Raque) is a recent widow with fading eyesight who doesn’t know how to start a new life on her own. Marla Faye (Melissa Combs), a true force of nature, is a good ol’ Texas gal trying to both move on from (and get revenge on) her ex-husband, who dumped her for a 23-year-old. And finally, Jinx (Tina Jo Wallace) offers to be a life-coach for the others, only to discover (of course) that she is the one in most need of her own services.
It makes for a fun evening of theater, and as usual for DDP, the cast is more than ready for the material. Combs gives the hands-down most memorable performance of them all, bringing all the swagger and spunk you’d expect from such a larger than life character as Marla Faye (I mean, even the character’s name…!), and Preach really nails Randi’s frustration and increasing desperation. Wallace knocks it out of the park with Jinx’s initial bombastic façade and keeps it believable when the cracks in her persona begin to show. And King-Raque, though clearly not as old as the character she’s playing gives Dot equal measures of strength and fragility that really brings you into her character’s plight.
I wasn’t as enamored of the set as I usually am with a DDP production; it was supposed to be an outdoor verandah, but Ron Rail’s design looked more to me like the living room of a wealthy mansion. Part of the problem is probably that it was simply too large and spacious, but I suspect that owes more to the big DDP stage than Rail’s design. Still, it was well furnished and I bought into the illusion eventually.
Lighting by Andrew Duff, sound by David Nelson, and costumes by Sharon Murray Harrah were nicely accomplished and up to the usual standards of the Playhouse.
Jones Hope Wooten scripts are sometimes hit or miss, and this one is probably not among their best. It’s fairly predictable, and many of the vignettes play out exactly as you expect them to. But it is still a funny show full of engaging characters well performed. With dinner included, its definitely good date-night material!
Featuring Melissa Combs, Debbie King-Raque, Jillian Preach, and Tina Jo Wallace.
The Savannah Sipping Society
May 22 – June 30, 2018
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriot Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he will be launching a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.