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The Savannah Disputation

a Comedy/Drama
by Evan Smith

COMPANY : Centerstage North Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Art Place - Mountain View
ID# 5219

SHOWING : February 02, 2018 - February 10, 2018



Two elderly sisters forget all about southern charm when a young door-to-door evangelist comes knocking. This theological comedy blends Smith’s trademark sharpness of wit and depth of character while telling a story in which a crisis of faith arises when seemingly similar beliefs are discovered to be worlds apart.

Director Julie Taliaferro
Mary Cheryl Baer
Melissa Stephanie Dennard
Father Murphy Jerry Jobe
Margaret Karen Worrall
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No Disputin’ It
by playgoer
Sunday, February 4, 2018
"The Savannah Disputation" pits a perky evangelical Protestant missionary against three Roman Catholics – two sisters (one sweet and simple; the other neither) and a priest. There’s some real theological content in their discussions, but a fair amount of humor too. Add in good performances, and the intellectual challenges become downright entertaining.

CenterStage North’s production takes place on a set designed by John Parker. Stage right we have the dining room table and a door to the kitchen; stage left we have a sofa, with a bookcase and stairway behind. A swivel chair (put to good use in one memorable scene) sits center stage. Behind it we have the outside door, surrounded by glass panels, with a brick backing outside. The light chartreuse walls, curtains, fake foliage, and eclectic wood furniture make this a believable home for two elderly sisters. I’m not sure that the elegant selection of books in the bookcase does so, though; this would seem to be the perfect opportunity to fill shelves with Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, which too often show up on sets when elegant books are called for. We also see crosses in evidence, but no crucifixes (at least no obvious ones).

David Reingold’s nice lighting design has a couple of subtle effects, aside from general lighting that shows up the seams in the walls of the set. Brenda Orchard’s sound design makes wonderful use of ringtones from a real cellphone onstage, but otherwise seems a bit off-kilter. Music selections for scene changes seem inappropriate for the tone and subject matter of the play. Costumes are good, and props are excellent. Technically, the production is likely to improve as the run continues.

The program lists four scenes in the play, but "The Savannah Disputation" is performed more as two vignette-like scenes followed by one long scene that contains the meat of the intermissionless play. It’s almost two hours long, but Julie Taliaferro’s brilliantly active staging keeps the show from dragging. We have four sharply defined characters whose interactions are a delight to watch.

Performances are all well above par. Stephanie Dennard is Disney-princess pretty as Melissa, the missionary, and ably portrays a perky, lonely woman slightly out of her depth in discussing Bible exegesis. Jerry Jobe, who is charged with providing the bulk of the serious theological content, reacts wonderfully throughout the play and also adds real fire to the more serious moments. Cheryl Baer gives Mary a sour, domineering nature that comes across strong, but seems to be masking some inner doubt. She could be more forceful in the rant that precedes Mary’s storming upstairs, but hers is a powerful performance. Karen Worrall, as the submissive sister Margaret, conveys a sweetness that warms the heart of every member of the audience. Hers too is a performance to remember.

"The Savannah Disputation" is bound to elicit discussion among audience members as they leave the theatre. With an audience that is likely to be composed primarily of mainstream Protestants, both Roman Catholicism and off-the-center evangelical beliefs are likely to appear slightly exotic (and even more exotic, perhaps, to non-Christians). Catholics too will find things to talk about, in the strict adherence to church doctrine that the priest insists upon. "The Savannah Disputation" raises lots of issues, even hinting at a significant medical problem, but leaves it to the audience to make up their own minds what the takeaway of the play should be. But that takeaway will include enjoyment for any lover of top-flight community theatre. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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