Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Savannah Sipping Society
Ross Valley Players
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Jeanie's reviews of Pericles and Always...Patsy Cline and Patrick's review of Oedipus at Palm Springs

Sumi Narendran Cardinale, Monica Snell,
Heather Shepardson, and Mary Bishop

Photo by Gregg LeBlanc
Treat yourself to some lighthearted midsummer fun and welcome laughter at The Savannah Sipping Society currently running at Ross Valley Players. Written by award-winning trio Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten (The Dixie Swim Club), the play features four Southern women having a romping good time working through their various midlife crises and discovering the value of true friends along the way. Staging and casting by director Tina Taylor keeps the action sitcom-worthy and delivers a bubbly entertainment.

Randa (Monica Snell) kicks it off with a monologue addressed to the audience relating her sad (and angering) tale of getting passed over for promotion. She segues into a "hot yoga" class, in which she and two other participants nearly pass out from the rigor and heat. That's how she meets Dot (Mary Bishop) and Marla Faye (Heather Shepardson). We learn that Dot recently moved to Savannah with her husband after retiring, only for hubby to up and die, leaving her stranded in a new place. Marla Faye is stinging from a recent breakup with her husband of 30 years, since he took up with his 20-something dental hygienist. "Now I can't brush my teeth without thinking of them..."

That thought launches an assault on the furniture with a rag doll—Marla Faye's "mobile therapy device." And then the others must follow suit, with hilarious results. After bonding over doll drubbing, the three agree to meet up at Randa's stately home for a casual cocktail hour. Thus begins the unlikely friendship, over bad wine and lots of cheese.

They're joined in that initial gathering by Jinx (Sumi Narendran Cardinale), someone Dot randomly met that she thought would be a good match for the group. Besides, Jinx claims to be a life coach, and offers a good deal for helping the others overcome their blues and "kick start their lives." Jinx's advice and ideas motivate the rest of the action and the high jinks (pardon the pun) happily ensue.

Jinx has her own challenge to face, as her only living relative, her sister, is sinking into dementia, leaving her to feel orphaned and uncared for. Her emotional arc develops as she guides the others to renewed confidence. The serious themes are treated with a light hand, adding a touch of substance to the comedy.

Four distinct characters, four actresses adept in comic skills, and a charming script filled with Southernisms and one-liners make for a diverting entertainment. Snell's seemingly straight-laced Randa breaks out into wild physical comedy at times, revealing a feisty interior life. Dot appears resigned to aging, but carries her own with the younger women, and Bishop has fun with her often surprising comments. Cardinale has a flair for comedy that aids in her sympathetic interpretation of Jinx. Shepardson as Marla Faye nearly steals the show with the zingers given her by the script, with a wonderful wry delivery and great comic timing.

Director Taylor nails most of the comedy, but perhaps could have gone even further with the sitcom style of the piece. The set by Tom O'Brien is something of a mystery—a couple of locations are required, but most of the action takes place at Randa's elegant home, so it's unclear why we're looking at stylized trees and mismatched furniture. Costumes by Miles Smith attractively help to nail the character definition, and lighting by Ellen Brooks aids in the illusion of different locales. Billie Cox's sound design is mostly apropos, but seems stuck in a country-western vein and Marla Faye's Texan background. These are minor distractions—the show stands on the shoulders of the four actresses who are quite delightful to watch.

Can't travel much this summer? Make a pleasant journey to Savannah with Ross Valley Players for a hoot of a play.

Ross Valley Players' The Savannah Sipping Society, through August 12, 2018, at The Barn Theater at Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. Tickets $12.00-$27.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 415-456-9555.