by Patricia Bradford

I’ve covered Philadelphia theatre for years via STAGE Magazine, but made the move down to St Pete Beach, Florida not too long ago. I was so happy and grateful to have a chance to sample some of the local theatre fare this weekend while attending the closing performance of Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s production of THE SAVANNAH SIPPING SOCIETY.

Let’s chat quickly about the venue first. This is a hidden gem of a dinner theatre that is tucked away in a fairly nondescript location off Ulmerton Road in Clearwater, FL (the theatre website wisely hints to customers that the building is brick and is behind a bank – GPS helped me navigate successfully). For the quality this theatre delivers, there need to be billboards on the interstate plugging its virtues and strobing spotlights directing folks from US-19! It is first-rate. The space is large – crystal chandeliers (my favorite) abound – it’s classy and clean (and so are the restrooms) and though I did not partake of the dinner portion of the experience, my table mates did, and they shared their rave reviews with me on the quality and quantity of the food offered. Because I was alone, I was seated with a table full of strangers…but they soon became my friends by the end of the evening…we chatted and got to know one another easily. This is an awesome place! Waitstaff is attentive…dishes are cleared like clockwork…management and staff are friendly. They know what they are doing and they do it well…customers are pleased and keep on returning – I met and spoke with several folks who are “regulars”.

On to the play. OK – it’s a Jesse Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten property…these folks also know what they are doing, when it comes to comedies that engage (slightly) older audiences. They have written for such TV gems as “The Golden Girls” and the rapid-fire, laugh-a-minute joke structure of their works belies that fame. This property is no different. If you are not familiar with the play, here’s the super-nutshell: four ladies who have landed in Savannah, Georgia, for disparate reasons, take and hate a hot yoga class, where they connect with one another and afterward, meet for an impromptu happy hour (avec du fromage!) at the home of central character, Randa Covington. Hilarity ensues. So does friendship. Copious audience laughter does, likewise.

And finally, the cast. Though a winning ensemble piece, there were standout performances in this production, which starred Debbie Yones as “Miranda Covington”, Karen “Kagey” Good as “Dot Haigler”, Samantha Parisi as “Marlafaye Mosley” and Brick as “Jinx Jenkins”. Ensemble notwithstanding, Parisi and Brick delivered outstanding performances throughout. Parisi, as “Marlafaye” is handed lots of awesome one-liners by the authors, but this gal truly knows how to deliver them consistently and create a “real” character to encompass them. She had the audience in the palm of her hand from the get-go. Brick, as “Jinx”, waltzed onto the stage and we just started loving her and laughing with her every move! This actress can handle comedy and she can make us tear up….she controls the stage that she is waltzing upon. She is…gifted.

Memorable moments were also delivered by the other two lovely ladies in the cast. At the top of Act 2, Yones had the unenviable task of quieting down the crowd, post-intermission hijinks, with an opening monologue and she really shone here. She was at ease breaking the 4th wall, waiting for folks to settle in. Her character’s southern charm and the plot line dished up to us by the authors had made us truly care about her family and financial woes. She was genuine and funny – not just delivering lines, but chatting with us in her charmingly Southern way. Super sweet moment in her performance.

Kagey Good also embraced her best moments in Act 2 – her delivery of lines a la Ren-Faire cracked the audience up – and her monologue later in that act regarding her character’s struggle with vision loss had us tearing up. When the audience is caught up, caring and sniffling about your character, you know you’ve done your job well as an actress. Kudos!

Director Patrick Brafford kept the pace moving swiftly and set designer Dean Wick created a lovely gingerbread-crested Savannah homestead on three quarters of the stage, while supplying a multi-use space in the remaining quarter. Perfect for delivering monologues that are sprinkled throughout the play.

Remember to visit this theatre whenever you are looking for a wholesome night out on the town. One caveat: bring cash or your checkbook, as credit cards don’t fly here. Upcoming shows include:
FULLY COMMITTED – Sept 1 – Oct 28, 2018
RUN FOR YOUR WIFE – Nov 3 – Dec 1, 2018
WHAT THE BELLHOP SAW – Jan 5 – Feb 24, 2019
SANDY TOES AND SALTY KISSES – Mar 2 – Apr 28, 2019

13355 49th Street N
Clearwater, FL 33762

(Photo: L to R: Samantha Parisi, Kagey Good, Brick Brickel and Debbie Yones; photo credit: Stephen Bell)

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