Written By: Mindy Leaf
The Willow Theatre at Boca Raton’s Sugar Sand Park is the perfect-sized, up-close venue to enjoy Curtain Call Playhouse’s (CCP) 2023 opener of THE SAVANNAH SIPPING SOCIETY by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, Jamie Wooten. Skillful direction by Carla Zackson Heller alongside nostalgic, old-Savannah set design by founder/artistic director Kris Coffelt and striking musical interludes and slide projections by Bill Heller instantly bring us into the world of four colorful, middle-aged women who live (or recently landed) in Savannah, Georgia. Each one, in her own way, has suddenly had the rug pulled out from under her comfortable, predictable life. A major reset is in order, with alternate roads to happiness waiting to be explored. Are they ready to change?
These feisty ladies, at first glance, have little in common—except the shock of starting over after age fifty. How they look at themselves, their past lives, the crazy world we live in … and how they come to accept, grow and support one another in their journey … makes for a touching, inspiring, but also absolutely hilarious show packed with crack-up one-liners you won’t forget.
Nor will you forget these saucy southerners—who feel like old friends by show’s end. During intermission, the lady sitting in front of me turned around and, gesturing to the audience made up primarily of women of a certain age, said with a laugh: “I feel like these women are speaking directly to us.” I couldn’t agree more; everyone (even men) can find at least one, if not more, characters to identify with.
After a lovely, large-screen introduction of historic Savannah scenery and a Savannah song, we land in the reception area of a Hot Yoga studio where Randa (Kris Coffelt) bursts out in obvious, sweaty distress. This logical, successful, single and single-minded career woman is outraged by the class’s “150-degree heat,” calling it “The most horrible experience I had in my life.”
But Randa is suffering from a lot more than thinking the “hot” in Hot Yoga refers to a cool exercise program resulting in hot bodies. (I could relate all too well to her “mistake” because I, too, had booked a “hot yoga” class for the two of us when my 20-something, yoga-loving daughter came to visit. And just like Randa, I’d totally misconstrued the meaning of “hot.” All the young, lithe people in class appeared to know exactly what they were in for (and they did have hot bodies) but, personally, I practically passed out from the heat and left after half a session, just like the women in the play.)
Randa shares how when called her into her boss’s office, she thought she’d be promoted to partner at the architectural firm where she’d worked 24/7 for years. Instead, that position went to a 30-year-old man. Security guards needed to pry her hands off the young man’s throat when she attacked him in a fit of rage; of course, she then also lost her job.
Then another older and shocked Hot Yoga first-timer practically passes out beside her. Dot (Lisa Kerr) reflects, “I thought ‘hot yoga’ meant it was fun and hip. Who knew we signed up for Lucifer’s little sweatshop!” Dot, who hails from Texas, explains she’d been hoping to get her mind off her grief at losing her workaholic husband eight months earlier—just as he was about to retire by moving near the water in Georgia for their golden years dream. Bereft and alone in a strange city, she was finally attempting to discover a new purpose, hence the yoga class.
Marlafaye (Betty Ann Hunt Strain) ejects herself from the class next, sinking to her knees as she croaks, “The pearly gates—they’re opening up! Must … have … water,” and grabs Randa’s bottle. She next pulls out a long, limp, “therapy device” rag doll designed to take a beating and help relieve pent-up emotional stress. Marlafaye has plenty. Not only did her cheating husband leave her for a 23-year-old dental hygienist, she adds, “When I divorced Waylon the one thing I didn’t count on was he got the friends AND the skank.”
At first the two others poo-poo Marlafaye’s therapy doll. But after she has a go at furiously smashing her ex via the doll, then breathing a sigh of relief, they each take a turn at vicariously beating up on the men who disappointed them so deeply and upended their lives. And they decide it’s time for a fresh start—to live for the moment and thrive on their own.
Randa’s passing comment that she would have invited them over for drinks if they’d stayed around longer, is enthusiastically pounced upon. They congregate on the veranda of her impressive house, just down the block, indulge in rounds of Southern Bourbon toasts and, despite some wariness by their “logical” hostess who questions what they could possibly have in common, soon bond. And thus over an impromptu happy hour, The Savannah Sipping Society is born. But not before Marlafaye relates a story of a very rude customer at the grocery check-out who kept complaining about her seven items in the four-item lane. Then who should suddenly join their party, but that very same woman, invited on a whim by Dot!
Jinx (Linda Drozdow) is a newly minted “life coach” who enlists the three women as clients who can really use her help. She’s able to win over outraged shopper Marlafaye by enthusing about her cheese sticks. Marlafaye shares her recipe and their bonding over Southern cooking saves the day. Jinx pushes the women to expand their horizons with challenges such as going on a first date on Valentine’s Day. In the end, Jinx, too, must work to change the vector of her lonely life, finally putting down roots and relying on her friends. Their dates hold no fairy tale moments, but they all grow and learn from the experience. Like Jinx’s wry observation about her narcissistic partner: “Never date a guy whose calves are better looking than yours.”
It’s pure joy to join these four ladies on their laugh-a-minute journey of self– discovery that includes attending a Renaissance Festival in full costume and even a trip to Paris. In today’s “me me me” world, I also found it heartening to see how they support one another through a health scare, financial crisis, self-doubt, and all sorts of emotional hiccups.
Dot thought her date had a chance when they connected by both having recently lost partners they loved, but he signed his own death warrant when he said, “Bet you were really good looking when you were young.”
Despite all the hurt, Marlafaye’s fantasy of a reunion with her ex when he comes down to meet her for dinner at a Waffle House on Valentine’s Day night is actually, happily, crushed when he announces he and his new wife are having a baby. She goes through a litany of how old he’ll be when the kid reaches certain stages, including both of them being in diapers at the same time. Thinking of how his romantic fantasy with his young wife will be dashed when a needy baby enters the picture, she concludes: “I wanted him to get his comeuppance. Boy is he going to get it now!”
But our four Savannah ladies go on to embody the maxim that “Living well is the best revenge.” Or as Randa proclaims as she closes the show with a toast: “Here’s to it’s never too late to make new old friends. … it’s only logical.”
Curtain Call Playhouse’s production of THE SAVANNAH SIPPING SOCIETY is playing now through February 26 at the Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton 33486. Box Office: 561-347-3948.
On March 25-26 you can catch it at the Sunrise Civic Center Theatre in Sunrise.
For tickets to all locations, click on the UP NEXT & TICKETS bar at www.curtaincallplayhouse.com.