Raise a glass to ‘The Savannah Sipping Society’ … and go see the play, too

Grandmother Covington gets a big surprise on her birthday in “The Savannah Sipping Society.” From left: Beth Brown (Randa), Suzanne Hamilton (Grandmother), Cindy Callaham (Jinx), Ira White-Kelly (Marlafaye), Pam Brown (Dot)

‘The Savannah Sipping Society’

Attraction: “The Savannah Sipping Society,” by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 11-12 and 18-19 and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays, Oct. 13 and 20.
Where: Lubbock Community Theatre, 4230 Boston Ave.
Stage director: Sean Allen Jones.
Assistant director: Jay C. Brown.
Set design: Jon Keys.
Lighting design: Ginger Angstadt.
Costume design: Patti Campbell.
Tickets: $20 general public and $15 students and seniors.
Information: 749-2416

It may not be the same for everyone, but the process of making close friends is bound to strike some as something more easily accomplished during earlier chapters in one’s life … at the very least before family deaths, retirement and an unexpected introduction to one’s Social Security years become daily considerations or distractions.

To their credit, the playwriting trio of Jones-Hope-Wooten – specifically Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten – use their play “The Savannah Sipping Society” to introduce four Southern women, all strangers. These ladies range from barely pre-AARP to older years, but all have recognized their lives have stumbled into a rut.

And they want out.

Specifically, they would love to rediscover the passion and fun of their younger years.

Change is needed and it will require a bit of bravery to address change after becoming used to every day’s same ol’-same ol’.

It helps, too, when fate tosses these four women directly in each other’s paths.

Consider this a somewhat serious introduction to a play propelled forward by laughter. How can it not when three of these strangers are brought together by a quite definitely mistaken experiment with a hot yoga class? Emphasis on the hot.

They also share an appreciation for Happy Hour and, while one woman might wonder how she was volunteered to host the event, plans are made for three strangers to learn more about each other over cocktails on a Friday.

Surprises are in store when one guest meets another woman along the way and decides to invite her along. But it isn’t long before all four share life’s disappointments with one another – and then agree to do something about it.

The emphasis on the Southern culture of Savannah may very well bring to mind those meetings of Southern friends throughout “Steel Magnolias.” Yet the first act of “The Savannah Sipping Society” strikes one as a regional meeting of the minds. The South meets the North, as a trio of playwrights bring New Yorker Neil Simon to mind as the play becomes a mixing bowl of hilarious one-liners.

Director Sean Allen Jones has cast this serio-comedy to perfection, with actresses who are comfortable with getting the last (funny) word in, even if revealing a bit of their previously private soul in the process.

I doubt “The Savannah Sipping Society” has enjoyed an off-Broadway, or even New York City, run, as yet. Don’t let that stop you from seeing it.

Only three years old, the play was first performed by the Gypsy Theatre Co. at the Sylvia Baird Theater in Buford, Ga. Kudos to Jones, or the Lubbock Community Theatre board, for tracking it down.

“Original theater” is no guarantee of entertainment value, and even “The Savannah Sipping Society” cannot hide some slower moments in Act II. It is overall, however, a theatrical treat and a perfect fit for the Lubbock Community Theatre stage.

Consider, too, that the play is not aimed only at seniors – for the simple reason practically every theatergoer will meet Randa, Marlafaye, Dot and Jinx and conclude the playwrights have mined from real life. Audience members will know at least one or two people just like them.

Even so, don’t be surprised if the play isn’t considered wonderful by women attending with their BFFs.

Beth Brown portrays Randa, likely short for Miranda, and is facing life after she placed her heart’s emphasis on her job, but never people. In Brown’s hands, Randa’s perfectionist tendencies still show, but what is she to do after her work is overlooked and her career derailed?

Certainly, others also know perfectionists who never gained approval from relatives.

Pam Brown is a delight as Dot, reeling from life as a widow – until finally gaining the strength to say how she really feels about the beautiful, shared retirement by her and her husband being blown to smithereens … leaving her starting over all by herself.

In real life, Ira-White Kelly had to recover from her legs having been broken in an ugly car accident.

As soon as possible, evidently, she was back attending auditions – and thanks to a combination of Kelly’s talent and precise planning by Jones and set designer Jon Keys, Kelly manages to deliver a hilarious performance while confined to a motorized wheelchair.

Kelly plays Marlafaye, who moved to Savannah from Texas after her husband ran off with a 23-year-old dental hygienist.

Suzanne Hamilton makes her brief appearance memorable as Randa’s grandmother.

But the fourth member of the sipping society is actress Cindy Callaham, cast as Jinx, who has been wandering from town to town, lured by fun jobs. She suggests the other ladies use her services and advice as a “life coach” to help regain lost passion and smiles, but she may also be in need of helpful advice.

It is an ensemble comedy and the work put into rehearsals shows. Aside from stumbling on just a handful of lines on opening weekend, performances by all are solid.

The lines are funny from the start – “If it were not for my mood swings, I’d get no exercise at all” – and their new experiences go to such lengths as a Renaissance Fair.  (Kudos to costumer Patti Campbell.)

If the second act has a couple dead spots, the meetings on Randa’s veranda remain so ticklish that it takes will power not to give away one-liners for future audiences.

The play’s darker issues – death, divorce, loss of confidence, to name some – at times are handled via self-deprecation. At other times, they only emphasize a need for trusted friends, which may become a dominant theme for everyone, on and off stage.

Age hardly matters when sharing laughter and tears and as Marlafaye reminds us, “Drink responsibly just means don’t spill it.”