Not much happens on stage in the Old Log’s production of “The Savannah Sipping Society,” the latest from the writing team behind “The Dixie Swim Club” and many others about the lives of Southern ladies.
This isn’t a play built on tight comedic action or dramatic tension. It steadfastly leaves the most interesting action offstage, as a woman recounts her experiences to friends over a glass of wine, a shot of bourbon or some other alcoholic lubricant. Think of “The Savannah Sipping Society” as a way to hang out with congenial storytellers.
The women in “Savannah” certainly are an appealing quartet, even though each is ensnared in a midlife crisis. Most of the action takes place on the veranda of Randa Covington, a career woman who is at loose ends after a dramatic meltdown at work.
She meets her new friends at a disastrous round of hot yoga. There is Dot, a retired French teacher who is at an emotional loss after the death of her husband. Marlafaye, a nurse turned liquor distributor, has relocated to Georgia after her husband jilted her for a 23-year-old dental hygienist. And Jinx, a beautician interested in branching out to be a life coach, is a lifelong wanderer who has landed in Savannah to take care of her ailing sister.
The four make a pact to shake up their lives. They have a string of adventures — offstage, of course — including a night of salsa dancing, a visit to a renaissance fair and a Valentine’s Day of disastrous dates. While some story lines run throughout the piece (Dot is going blind, Randa can’t find a job, Jinx can’t settle anywhere), “Savannah Sipping Society” feels like episodes of a particularly laid-back sitcom.
It would have been nice to see some of the ladies’ Valentine’s dates or other comedic high points hinted at in the script, not to mention more development of what does happen on stage. (There’s a death at the end of Act 1 that promised comedic gold for Act 2; it wasn’t provided.)
The talented company works to define the characters even when the script doesn’t provide much help. It would be easy to play them right on type: uptight career woman, flaky wanderer, Texas badass. It comes in the unbridled joy Mary Gant shows after Dot’s hot night on the dance floor; the look of chagrin that Teri Parker-Brown holds when she appears on stage dressed as a Renaissance jester; or the occasional sparks that fly between Bonni Allen’s free spirit Jinx and Colleen Barrett’s uptight Randa.
Toss in Erik Paulson’s nicely realized set and Kent Knutson’s sturdy direction and “The Savannah Sipping Society” turns out to be more entertaining and heartfelt than the plain script would indicate.
Ed Huyck is a Twin Cities theater critic.