This is just a swell play. Engaging and funny in all the right places. Twenty years ago at Playwrights Horizons, Ms. Ivey created the role of Daisy Werthan in Driving Miss Daisy opposite the then unknown Morgan Freeman as Hoke Coleburn She is a steady and consistent presence on the stage and the only thing we need is more of her.
The Savannah Disputation could easily have dissolved into a mawkish debate between Catholicism and Born Again Anything, but is guided to the center chiefly by the ramrod backbone of Dana Iveyï¿½s Mary. Mary and her sister Margaret (Marylouise Burke) live in middle class Savannah when Melissa the Missionary Out To Save Catholics (Kellie Overby) shows up at her door. Mary throws her out once, but when the woman returns (just like a cat that you treated nicely says Mary) Margaret, who is just a few lettuce leaves short of a picnic, lets her in long enough to become the recipient of a load of leaflets and agree to a return visit.
At the return visit, Melissa is so positive and perky that Mary throws her out again without letting Margaret have a say so. Poor Margaret just wants some questions answered ï¿½ simple things like the resurrection of the body and the exact location of Heaven. Maryï¿½s dismissal of all things born again is not enough to quiet Margaret, so they agree to invite the missionary back once more. This time it will fall on the night that Margaret and Mary share a weekly dinner with the local priest, Father Murphy (Reed Birney).
The ensuing visit is delectable because it never goes where you think it will. Father Murphy is a bit slow to come out of the gate because he has been kept in the dark about the set up. When he is informed of his job as a sort of inverted devilï¿½s advocate, he is furious. The evening steams along, however, infused with Maryï¿½s ï¿½take no prisonersï¿½ attitude. Eventually the entire enterprise dissolves into not only theological argument, but personal confrontation and revelation. The Catholic Church is not the safety zone Mary had imagined nor is the certainty of our Missionary so clear and uncomplicated.
These are characters on tight ropes, and they must be played full throttle just to keep their balance. With the exception of Ms. Burke, who occasionally disappoints with just too much ditzy display, the cast achieves the desired consistency. Ms. Overby is to be congratulated for making her Missionary believable in the face of not only Ms. Ivey but also an audience of New Yorkers. In the end, we are left where we started, with two sisters heading into the last chapters of their lives, but after the Savannah Disputation, the playing field has been opened up, and the visiting teams are gathering outside the gates.
Other than the fact the Mr. Smith chose to begin all his characters names with the letter ï¿½Mï¿½, Iï¿½d say he did a fine job.
"an insubstantial but funny play"
New York Times
"it made me laugh my head off and think at the same time."
New York Daily News
"with all comedies, everything hinges on the cast. Fortunately, this quartet is positively heavenly.
New York Post
"The debate takes some fairly tortuous yet comically biting turns." & "Ultimately, though, the dramatics, like the exegetics, peter out"
"pitch-perfect" & "full of theatrical grace"
"Nobody plays "cranky" better than Dana Ivey. And Marylouise Burke can turn "dither" into an art form. Together, these actresses offer compelling arguments for your attendance" "a surprising number of jokes that depend on the good will of its audience."
"The give-and-take is good and snappy and delivered with split-second comic timing under Bobbie's helming." & "So far as it goes, "The Savannah Disputation" has genuine appeal."