The Savannah Sipping Society at Lyric Arts in Anoka

Photo by Molly Weibel, 1000 Words Photography-MN

There are at least ten productions opening this week across the Twin Cities, followed next week by at least another nine, and at least six more the next. This is probably the busiest three weeks in MN theater so you have a lot of choices, I also had a lot of choices to make. I was really glad I chose The Savannah Sipping Society as one of the shows I would be reviewing during this time. I had a great time with the women of the makeshift Savannah Sipping Society. There are plenty of laughs and some real life lessons to be taken in from a cast that is perfect in every role. It’s a wonderful look what it’s like to make new friends and start the second act of your life. It’s a fun show for couples to see, but probably even more fun for a group of women to have a night out at the theater together.

The Savannah Sipping Society is a play written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten. This show has a lot in common with some others I’ve reviewed over the last few years Steel Magnolias, The Bucket List of the Booze Club, and The Dixie Swim Club. The last isn’t a surprise as it’s also written by Jones, Hope, and Wooten. It’s a formula that brings together a group of women who bond and laugh together. They help each other through difficult times and celebrate their successes. This apparently only occurs in the south for some reason, but that’s OK because we get the added pleasure of some fun accents. What differentiates this play from those others, this time the southern women are not lifelong friends, they meet as the play opens. Marlafaye is recently divorced and moved to Savannah from Texas for a fresh start and to put some distance between herself and her ex-husband and his new much younger wife. Randa is a recently unemployed career woman, who has lived in Savannah her whole life but was too busy working to establish any other relationships. Dot is the woman who retired to Savannah a few months ago to promptly become a widow. Jinx has led a nomadic existence but came to Savannah to care for her ailing older sister. See, it has to be set in the south, how else could you plausibly have only four characters in a play, set in the present day on the planet earth with those names? The quartet become friends and under the tutelage of Jinx, the novice life coach, they try to experience new things and find their path forward.

One of the critical things to making this type of play work is the casting and Lyric Arts has nailed it. Elizabeth Florence Hale is a hoot and a holler as the Texan Marlafaye Mosely. She’s got a perfectly modulated accent, enough to know she’s Texan, not too much so as to grate on one’s nerves, not as simple as it sounds. She gets the best of the one liners and delivers them with the perfect earthy bluntness and wit. Jenny Ramirez is Randa Covington she captures the proper and conservative nature of the character in a way that keeps her sympathetic, we gringe with her when she’s horrified by the boundaryless Marlafaye who grabs her water bottle and takes a big swig. Gina Sauer as Jinx Jenkins is introduced in a way that leads you to think of her as a loud possibly vulgar makeup counter manager, but she quickly reveals herself to be the wise one of the group. That transition happens seamlessly and by the end you find yourself identifying with her the most. Sauer has a way of making her characters wisdom feel internal and authentic. Finally Deborah Schee is Dot Haigler her character is the oldest and that gives Schee a freedom to let her character sit back and go with the flow, the others get nervous about things or overreact to things, but she wisely plays the patience of her characters age, for her it’s all more than she ever thought it might be.

The show is directed by Natalie Foster who hasn’t quite got the staging worked out. Between scenes, the audience is left in darkness for far to long, which was really the only negative aspect of the show. I understand that between the scenes the characters need to do costumes changes but the script has taken that into account somewhat, usually between scenes one of the characters comes forward as the others exit and addresses the audience. Clearly this is done to give the other performers time to make their costume changes, but it feels as if this deliberate focus draw in the script isn’t being exploited enough. It’s a minor quibble, but it’s fairly noticeable and seemly easily addressed one would think. The costumes overshadow the interruption in the pacing though. I’m not a clothes guy, but I really liked the costumes brought together for the quartet by Samantha Fromm Haddow, particularly those worn by Jinx. Also wonderfully realized is the set which is the veranda and the back of Randa’s home, designed by Cory Skold. The lighting design by Brenna Hay is effective in shifting our focus as needed from the whole stage to the audience addresses, helping to sell the moments when one of the characters departs the action to express their thoughts to us.

The Savannah Sipping Society runs through May 7th at Lyric Arts in Anoka, for more information and to purchase tickets go to

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