In polite circles there are two things you never talk about: politics and religion. Both topics evoke passionate feelings that are hard to quell, and often any discussion will end in a stalemate, leaving all involved bruised and exhausted.
Much is the case Evan Smith’s comedy The Savannah Disputation, now onstage at Theatrical Outfit. The play’s humor takes center stage, making the dense subject matter palatable.
Under Tess Malis Kincaid’s skillful direction the production moves quickly with a precise rhythm. She equally utilizes the quaint, homey set by Lizz Dorsey. But, it is the performances that shine under her direction, which allows these vivid characters to be brought to life by the talented cast.
It all begins when Melissa (Lane Carlock) interrupts Mary’s (Alex Bond) peaceful day. A self-declared mean woman, Mary rudely slams the door in her face when Melissa asks Mary if she has been “Saved.” Steadfast in her Roman Catholic faith, Mary isn’t interested in the evangelical message that Melissa brings.
However, Melissa doesn’t give up and returns. This time, Mary’s sister Margaret (Shannon Eubanks) answers the door. More of a people person than Mary, she engages Melissa in conversation. Despite Margaret’s continued declaration that she is Catholic, Melissa tries to convert her, which causes Margaret to begin to question her faith.
To remedy the situation, Mary plans a one-two punch that will end the situation once and for all. She invites her priest Father Murphy (Mark Kincaid) over for dinner the same night that she has Margaret invite Melissa back over. Only Father Murphy doesn’t deliver the knock-out blow she expects, and when he seems to agree with Melissa about the resurrection of the body, everything turns upside down.
Each one of the cast members create lively, funny and captivating characters. Bond’s Mary quickly endears herself to the audience. She delivers the right amount of attitude and sassiness for the character. But, it is the humanness she gives Mary that makes the audience root for her so that when her moment of vulnerability happens, the breakdown is powerful.
Likewise, Carlock’s manic Melissa is a tour-de-force. The character has a few quirks and absurd lines, but she makes the statements seem natural. She holds her own against Bond’s Mary and easily steals the spotlight.
Eubanks provides a strong contrast to Bond. As much as Mary is cantankerous, Margaret is surgery sweet. There’s a frail innocence to the character, but Eubanks gives her an underlying strength that makes the performance all the more enjoyable. As Father Murphy, Kincaid brings a stern, but humble, take on the character, making him a nice counter balance to the strong personalities of the other characters.
While Smith has created fascinating characters, he has written a haphazard plot. One such example is the reoccurring doctor’s message about test results that is never resolved. Such a device could aid character development, but nothing in the course of the play connects the message to any motivation or characteristic any character might have. Similarly, Melissa’s conversations with her boyfriend/pastor detract more than expand her character. This production’s tight ensemble hides most of the script’s problems, and in lesser hands the holes in the narrative would be more glaring.
Cleverly acted and genuinely funny, The Savannah Disputation runs through September 7, 2014 at Theatrical Outfit in downtown Atlanta. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is a little under two hours without intermission.
– Kenny Norton