Pigs Do Fly Productions, which was established with the specific goal of telling stories featuring characters over 50 “living their lives in interesting, involved and exciting ways,” embodies that mission 110 percent with their current production of The Savannah Sipping Society, staged at Wilton Manors venue Empire Stage. This charming and straightforward southern-themed comedy is centered around not one such interesting older character but a full foursome of them, all of who are brought to life by an equally vibrant coalition of mature South Florida actresses who are giving their all to respective roles.
Written by a trio of former sitcom writers known collectively as “Jones Hope Wooten,” the play may stick to a relatively familiar narrative formula, but follows that recipe to much success, which creates a comedy cocktail about as sweet as the various adult beverages the main characters spend the show sipping.
The play tells the story of four very different women, each of whom find themselves at a crossroads after a major life change. Three of these women meet as fugitives from a particularly unpleasant hot yoga class: Dot, whose husband died of a heart attack before the two could enjoy the luxurious retirement they planned together; Marla Faye, whose own significant other absconded with a much younger woman; and Randa, whose lifelong marriage to her work finally breaks down after she has a very public breakdown.
The sparks of friendship begin to fly, and Randa invites the others to her veranda for a few drinks. Dot then extends the invitation to a fourth, and though the ensuing acquaintanceship gets off to a slightly rockier start, in the end, it’s a match made in heaven for the four lovely ladies who form the impromptu society of the title when they decide to make this happy hour a regular engagement.
What plot there is to be found comes from the latecomer, Jinx, whose usually rootless lifestyle has landed her in Savannah to care for an older sister stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease. A lifetime hairdresser, she has now decided to expand her repertoire into life coaching, and has the bright idea of using the other three as her “test clients,” challenging them to break through their self-doubt and inhibitions by doing things they had always dreamed of but never had the guts to try.
Together, this collection of lost souls work through their respective reservations with the help of one another, forming lasting friendships in the process. Though the women’s particular journeys will probably resonate the most with those who come from a similar demographic, there’s no need to be of a certain age or gender to appreciate the play’s broad and accessible humor, or to learn from its testament to resilience and to the affirming power of togetherness.
Barbara Bonilla probably garners the most laughs as the boisterous Marla Faye, the clear ham of the group, while Dalia Aleman offers a more restrained energy as the tighter-wound Randa.
Janice Hamilton and Carol Sussman also bring plenty of personality to their respective roles as the confident and sassy Jinx and the whimsically dotty Dot.
If some of these performances sometimes veer into what could be considered overacting, this seems to be only what the silliness of the piece requires, and all of the actresses also seemed up to the task of the play’s more down to earth moments. However, though the production is well-paced by director Deborah Kondelik, the story being told didn’t seem quite substantial enough to fully justify the play’s 120 minute run time, so I probably would have been slightly more satisfied if each hour-long act had come to a somewhat earlier resolution.
Perhaps this could have been enabled by a speeded up exposition, or a trimming down of some of the more dubious necessary monologues, which are also rather transparently placed to allow time for costume changes. On the other hand, the frequent wardrobe changes that result from the device do keep the show visually interesting despite the fact that it takes place on a singular set and, apart from two bookend scenes, in a singular location. They also add texture to the proceedings by helping us visualize the offstage adventures the women recount over cocktails, and allow one particularly hilarious visual gag involving renaissance faire garb.