NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) – One person and all the eyes watching and ears listening… The stage sometimes can feel like a lonely place.

That happens in the expanse of Riverside Park Pavilion when each cast member offers at least one soul-baring or comical monologue in Riverside Players’ production of “The Savannah Sipping Society.”

In a space the size of a narrow basketball court, four women individually show their acting mustard in the play that ranges from silly to touching.

Sensitive direction by Laurie Friedman-Fannin helps make them winners in solo and as a team. The production radiates friendship, which is what the play is about.

Camaraderie brightens the story by a trio of writers with direct connections to TV sitcom success. This play has that quick-quip crackle, like this from one of the characters:

“If it weren’t for mood swings, I wouldn’t get any exercise at all.”

Or another from a character giving advice to her husband (now former) on his ideal weight: “Four pounds, including the urn.”

Writers Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten have a rhythm with a substantial series of comedies-with-a-moral featuring Southern women.

This time, the women’s stomping ground is Savannah, Georgia. The players supply accents. The troupe supplies a pastel-influenced veranda of one of the women, complete with ample patio furnishings and a lawn (artificial) of a spacious yard.

The four women are at a point, as stated along the way, that they think no one wants to listen to anything they want to say anymore. Funny happenings surround that thought.

Three of the women meet at a grueling yoga class in a place akin to a boiler room. The fourth joins in a setup scene in the wake of a publicly embarrassing to-do: Two of the women insulted one another, and now they are coincidentally at a get-together going toe to toe. It’s familiar sitcom humor.

Soon, all the women connect and are part of a life makeover campaign by one of them. It seems there’s no place to go by up for:

+ Randa (Pamela Saulnier), an workaholic architect caught in a company downsizing – of one, her. Randa has been dumped for a young male, plus she has throttled her boss for the oversight. Job opportunities have gone poof.

+ Dot (Debra Barkholtz), whose husband was a master of putting off and putting off enjoying good things in life until retirement. And then he promptly died, leaving Dot alone and angry.

+ Marlafaye (Jennifer Neary), whose longtime husband left her for a 23-year-old dental hygienist, tapping into Marlafaye’s money, too. Marlafaye quit her nursing career to move to

Savannah to become a traveling liquor salesperson. Her expertise shows up in the “Sipping Society” material.

+ Jinx (Donna McVey), who has spent her life on the move – and moving some more and more. Now she has moved to be with her final family member, a sister who barely recognizes her. Jinx also provides the moving finale.

Still, the show is primarily comical.

Jinx has become a life coach, and she dreams up experiences for the group. A salsa dance, a Renaissance event, a Valentine’s date with a man for each, etc. – and loopy things happen, along with jokes:

Preparing for a party, Randa slips on a brilliantly sparkly dress. One line: She looks like “a disco ball with feet.” Another line: The event calls for something “more Lord & Taylor, not lewd and tacky.”

To get from one bonding thing to the other for the women, the writers have a clever segue for costume changes: monologues. One woman/player stays behind for self-revelations told in comical ways – or a bit of melancholy – as the others race through costume changes. Over time, the audience learns more about each character while seeing a healthy display of costumes that tend to be brightly colored. Most elaborate are flashy Renaissance fair costumes.

For each scene after the first one, a different kind of beverage suitable for sipping is served – as if page after page from a mixology book.

Overall, the play lives up to its promise made in the opening monologue – that the audience will see “loud, pushy, exasperating, wonderful women.”

The play offers a tone of comedy therapy – life lessons with laughs.


Running time: Two hours, 7 minutes

Remaining performances: 8 p.m. June 23-25 and 7 p.m. June 26


Creative: Playwrights – Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, Jamie Wooten; director – Laurie Friedman-Fannin; technical director – Andy Dubey; stage manager – Christy Dubey; costumes – Ellen Magnin; Renaissance costumes – Shirley Dubey, Dan Kelpinski; lighting design – Andy Dubey


Randa Covington – Pamela Saulnier

Dot Haigler – Debra Barkholtz

Marlafaye Mosley – Jennifer Neary

Jinx Jenkins – Donna McVey


NEXT: “The Addams Family: The Musical Comedy,” July 21-24, 27-31.

THE VENUE: Riverside pavilion in Riverside Park in Neenah is an open shelter used for summer shows of Riverside Players Theatre in the Park, which started in 1955. Seating for 244 or so (depending on arrangement) is set up around three sides of a rectangular stage. The building is stone exterior, with the inside including a wooden ceiling with large wooden support beams and a cement floor. The performance space is what amounts to a thrust stage – “thrusting” out into the audience. This style of stage is famous in some locations – Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Stratford Festival in Canada. It’s interesting that the Riverside Players stage came to be in the 1950s just as thrust stages in other places were getting attention as pioneering. The pavilion’s location is picturesque. The park, on the Fox River near Lake Winnebago, is rimmed

on two sides by grand historical homes, one of which was converted into Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. For settings, Riverside Players has a spot that catches the eye like few others.