Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 28, 2011

The Savannah Disputation

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through April 3, 2011
by Shera Cohen

Throughout the centuries, wars have started in the name of religion. "The Savannah Disputation" is a blip on the radar of clerical conflict on the home front. The angle on this battle is humor which is sustained throughout. There is a heap of proselytizing going on, as the characters take the issue of Christianity vs. Catholicism very seriously.

Admittedly, this reviewer did not "get" all of the jokes, although theatre-goers at the Majestic certainly did. The saying is that you have to be Jewish or a New Yorker to fully appreciate Woody Allen's humor. This play follows that code. "Savannah" is a comedy about religion with underlying skepticism and seriousness. The characters are caricatures for the most part. That said, the actors in these roles do exactly what they are supposed to do in their individual performances and their interaction with each other.

Brenny Ravine, as the young over-zealous minister Melissa preaching her word from door-to-door, is charming and wide-eyed. She embodies strong will with some vulnerability. Her goal is to convert two middle-aged Catholic sisters - one more Catholic than the other. Barb McEwen's opinionated and bossy Mary is mostly on the mark, leaning a bit toward over-acting. Jeannine Haas balances McEwen's boisterousness with a mousy Margaret. Yet Haas personifies a woman with more substance. Writer Evan Smith's dialogue pits one woman against the other lovely. Robert Lunde (Father Murphy) likens himself to the fulcrum of the seesaw (the ying and yang of the sisters and Christianity vs. Catholicism). He is a steady rock with a soft edge.

Although the play's date is the present, Greg Trochlil's staging of the women's home reflects that they have yet to leave the era of the 1950's. Christine Thompson's costuming accomplishes the same effect.

There are several written and directorial subtleties that underscore the battles related to getting the message "of the gospel," so to speak. Melissa's cell phone music is "Mission Impossible" and Margaret deletes answering machine calls. However, deleting this play from a theatregoer's things to do list will be a loss of laughs in this bleak winter season.