Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Savannah Disputation"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"The Savannah Disputation"

by Evan Smith
Directed by Paul Daigneault

Sound Design by Andrew Ducan Will
Scenic Design by Eric Levenson
Lighting Design by Daniel H. Jentzen
Costume Design by Gail Aastrid Buckley
Dialect Coach Amelia Broome
Properites Master Kathryn Kawecki
Production Stage Manager Dawn Schall

Mary.........Nancy E. Carroll
Melissa.......Carolyn Charpie
Margaret...........Paula Plum
Father Murphy...Timothy Crowe

DISCLAIMERS: Whenever the blank "Religion" shows up in forms over at Beth Israel Hospital I write in "I am a Militantly Anti-Christian Atheist" because I will not want any good-hearted true-believers to insist that I politely reject their interest in the future of my non-existent immortal soul while I am busy doing the dying. Also, I detest "Noisy Rock Music" even more when it involves "Xtianity". And those may be some reasons I found the SpeakEasy production of Evan Smith's "The Savannah Disputation" a joy, a hoot, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys. So there!

The target of Smith's gloriously satiric pen is the self-righteous smugness that insists the ill-thought-out details of anyone's true-belief is The One True Way and everyone else is, pitiably, destined for Hell-fire. And he and Director Paul Daigneault have loaded the dice against the disputants by filtering everything they say through a thick Southern accent (Thank You Dialect Coach Amelia Broome!). No one north of the Pennsylvania border takes anything spoken in corn-pone phraseology seriously, do we? The fact that Carolyn Charpie's young little blonde is a Born-Again "missionary to the Catholics" while Nancy E. Carroll's hard-shelled Catholic gleefully asks her priest (Tomothy Crowe) over to DESTROY Her --- none of that verbal hair-pulling is anythin' but 'eumorus when they're talkin' like Minnie Pearl and Senator Claghorn. At least till the playwright lets the honest humanity of his characters shine through the thin veneer of their thin though implacable over-zealousness. But, Ghod it's fun!

Though Tomothy Crowe's Father Murphy is surprised to discover he's been summoned to dinner to play The Fist of Shiva defending the Truth, he turns out (in decidedly UNsouthern accents) to be an informed and largely impartial referee, calmly pointing out the errors and inconsisencies on both sides, and subtly suggesting that both mud-wrestlers concentrate more on humility and humanity in themselves and others. He even has a few examples of that out of his own life. And Caroline Charpie turns out human enough to bemoan her youthful failures as a militant missionary.

But of course the true reason all Bostonians will crowd into the Roberts Studio of the BCA is to see Nancy E. Carroll and Paula Plum ["The Two & Only, together again for the very first time" --- except for Gloucester of course]. Carroll takes delicious delight in being mean at full-throttle, while as her spinster-sister Plum is a quiet and open-minded mouse worried over the truth of her beliefs, and fearful of waking up alone on the Day of Physical Resurrection. (One surprise in store for Boston's frequent playgoers: in the first few minutes of the play Carroll and Plum appear as dowdy old frumps! This is partly the magic of Gail Aastrid Buckley's costumes, and partly two excellent actresses playing the parts. What a relief to wait after the show to find both these women revealed in their true, beautiful selves.)

The playing here is uniformly magnificent; each of the quartet holds a distinctly, uniquely different viewpoint, and as they grind against one another what emerges in each is surprising, and satisfying --- to each other, to themselves, and to a delighted audience.

Each one of them has a moment --- often several moments --- when their faces, in total silence, reveal reactions of hilarious pith and bite. And, as argument gets more and more personal, each has a moment of sexual revelation that surprises the others, and the audience.

See it for yourself, and tell me if it's really the first fun hit of the season, or if it's just that it tickles the funnybone of my own personal atheistic heart.


"The Savannah Disputation" (18 September - 17 October)
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide