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“Savannah Sipping Society” Provides Plenty of Laughs and Some Food for Thought

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Stage West’s current production, “The Savannah Sipping Society” takes us to that genteel city of Southern charm, Southern belles and Southern humor where four middle-aged ladies come together to trade life stories, commiserate about their issues, but most of all to have fun and learn how to enjoy life again. Many women will see themselves in either MarlaFaye, Randa, Dot, or Jinx. However, it’s not just women who’ll enjoy this play. As a matter of fact, it was three men−Jamie Wooten, Jessie Jones and Nicholas Hope−who wrote the play, and I’m sure they had a mother, sister, aunt or friend who resembled these characters. In fact, the men in the audience will probably feel the same.

Each of the women are at a juncture in their life. Sixty-something Dot has recently lost her husband, just when they were planning an idyllic retirement enjoying their “golden years” together. MarlaFaye is a fifty-seven-year-old divorcee whose husband ran off with a much younger woman. Randa is a forty-nine-year-old career woman who has never had time for a family and has just recently been laid off from her job. Jinx is the catalyst who brings the other three women together and, using her skills as a self-proclaimed Life Coach, shows that they need to bring fun and adventure back into their lives.

What’s especially interesting about the play is that each of the women “breaks the fourth wall” occasionally to move the plot along and to give the audience a glimpse into their personality and experiences. Another interesting aspect of the play is the fact that there are no male actors and the only other female character is Randa’s grandmother who appears on stage for less than five minutes, has only a couple of lines and then drops dead from the shock when she hears the women yell “Surprise!” as they greet her for her unexpected 90th birthday party.

Although this was probably the shortest role for a veteran actor like Dee Curran, it must have been a stretch to play a character so much older than her.

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“Walking properly with a cane was challenging. However, I love that I can still run sound effects for the show, sneak backstage, change into costume, do my part and go right back to the [sound] booth,” Dee remarks.

Ellen Hutt, who plays Dot, has been involved in theatre since she was in high school. Her favorite roles were Louise Seeger in “Always, Patsy Cline” and Vernadette in “The Dixie Swim Club.” “Both characters endured hardships throughout their lives but used humor to keep them afloat,” Ellen says.

Interestingly enough, in all three roles she has portrayed spunky Southern women. Ellen is a “method actor” who must almost become the person she’s portraying. “It is important to think not only about what is happening to the character during the play, but what her life was like leading up to the moment that she appears on stage.”

Charlene Adams plays MarlaFaye, the bitter divorcée who wants to wreak revenge on her philandering ex-husband. Charlene began acting in high school and, since then, has been involved in almost every aspect of theatre. She even founded a non-profit community theatre and acting academy in Utah that is still flourishing.

Her favorite parts have been character roles−those that are larger than life. These have included the wicked witch in the show “Into the Woods” and Miss Hannigan in “Annie.”

In her lengthy experience in theatre. Charlene has seen the rewarding, as well as the challenging aspects of the craft.

“Taking flat, black and white words on a page, discovering the who, what, why, and how of a story and the individuals that live in that story, and bringing them to full life on the stage is thrilling,” she remarks.

“Human nature is the biggest challenge. It takes a lot of people to put a show on. Keeping an open mind and a soft heart, I have found, are the best tools to overcome the challenge of working with other people with all the differing perspectives and personalities,” Charlene concludes.

Jeanene MacLean portrays Randa, who looks back in regret at her life consumed by work and her troubled relationship with her family, especially her grandmother. She’s been involved in theatre for fifteen years, but her love of acting began as a child when she used to put on plays with her cousins. One of her favorite roles at Stage West was that of Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday.”

“We received standing ovations every night. When patrons say, ‘You are Billie Dawn or you would make Judy Holladay proud’, you really know you captured the audiences’ hearts.”

Beccy Porter embodies Jinx, the spark that moves the play and rekindles the fire within each woman. Beccy has been acting for more than thirty years and during that time has had many juicy roles−mostly comedic. She delves into the personality of the characters she portrays and even adds her own twist sometimes.

For example, for the part of Mother Superior in “Nunsense, she researched Catholicism since she isn’t Catholic and learned about nun’s lives and routines. Beccy also made her Irish.

The part of Golda in “Fiddler on the Roof” is her dream role because “she’s a multi-layered, complex character with some wonderful songs.”

The two-act play was seamlessly put together by director Sandy Penwarden. This is her third stint at directing.

Although she loved to attend plays, Sandy got her start in theatre at a later stage in her life. She became involved in Stage West in 2001. Sandy has never been onstage and doesn’t plan to act, but she’s performed all kinds of duties behind the scenes.

“I didn’t have any challenges with this play, really,” Sandy comments, “because all of these women are seasoned actresses. The only thing was getting my vision across to them and they picked up on it.”
As many actors state, the most satisfying part of the experience for Sandy was the camaraderie and seeing the final product come out after weeks of rehearsals.

One of the aspects of theatre that I enjoy is the costumes and the sets. Since “The Savannah Sipping Society” takes place in modern day, the costumes are everyday dress except for two scenes−which I won’t reveal. However, each woman’s appearance is slightly different based on their age and personality. For example, Dot, the elder of the women, wears a dress to a casual get together, while the others wear slacks. Jinx, the more flamboyant of the four, wears flashier clothes.

“I was first introduced to theatre in tenth grade. My choir teacher convinced me to audition for “Grease, the Musical – School Version.” I will never forget that experience and how it enriched my life,” says Jennifer.

She has worked on costumes for a number of plays, such as “Shrek the Musical,” “Blackwood,” and “Death Takes a Holiday.” “I owe most of my costume knowledge to Eileen Bernard,” Jennifer states.

The set perfectly suits the play and adds an air of reality to “The Savannah Sipping Society.” The entire show takes place in Randa’s home. Every detail is taken into consideration, down to the white picket fence that dresses the apron of the stage.

“The Savannah Sipping Society” is a heart-warming play that will make you laugh at least every few minutes with the hilarious one-liners.

For example, Marla Faye says, “Instead of forgettin’ to eat, I’m eatin’ to forget.”

Jinx states, “Bourbon is my favorite color.”

And Randa states, “Where there’s a will, my name better be in it.”

It’s advisable to purchase your tickets as early as possible since the play will be held in the smaller of the two auditoriums.

There will be seven performances of “The Savannah Sipping Society”−matinees at 2 p.m. on April 20, 21, 27, and 28 and evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on April 19, 20, and 26. You can purchase tickets online at www.stagewestplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 352-683-5113. The theatre is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill.

Back row (L-R) Jeanene MacLean Ellen Hutt, Beccy Porter, Charlene AdACams Front: Dee Curran [Photo by Sarah Nachin]
Back row (L-R) Jeanene MacLean Ellen Hutt, Beccy Porter, Charlene AdACams
Front: Dee Curran
[Photo by Sarah Nachin]
(L-R) Beccy Porter, Jeanene MacLean, Charlene Adams, Ellen Hutt [Photo by Sarah Nachin]
(L-R) Beccy Porter, Jeanene MacLean, Charlene Adams, Ellen Hutt [Photo by Sarah Nachin]
Beccy Porter [Photo by Sarah Nachin]
Beccy Porter [Photo by Sarah Nachin]

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