‘Savannah Sipping Society’ meets at Kent County Theatre Guild

From left, Jill Lewandowski as Randa, Chris Polo as Dot, Patti Gatto as Marlafaye and Laina Bernard as Jinx star in Kent County Theatre Guild’s “Savannah Sipping Society” starting Feb. 15. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The story of four women overcoming challenges and learning to love life is taking the stage starting next weekend as the Kent County Theatre Guild brings the comedy “The Savannah Sipping Society” to Dover.

Director Mike Polo found the play while sifting through the works of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten collectively known as Jones Hope Wooten.

“There was another play of theirs that I really liked but another theater had recently done it. So I looked into their catalogue and when I read this play, I knew we had to do it,” he said.

The play centers on four women, all struggling with the challenges life has presented them, who are able to grow together as friends.

Mr. Polo never directs a play he has seen. He exclusively chooses plays that he’s read.

“I think that if you have seen a play performed and then try to direct it yourself, you can’t help but bring inspiration from the show you saw. So it’s never truly original,” he said.

“But when I read this play, I saw the characters in my mind and imagined the set, just like you would when you read a book. But then I get to make it all come to life here.”

He also likes to keep the actors thinking about their characters.

“I will start to think I know my character pretty well. But then he’ll say something to get me to look at things from a different perspective,” said Patti Gatto of Dover, playing the role of Marlafaye.

Ms. Gatto primarily performs in dramas but since joining the Kent County Theatre Guild in 1995 has dabbled in comedy occasionally.

“Comedy is actually a lot harder than people think,” she said. “There’s a lot that goes into getting the timing and delivery right — and if they aren’t perfect, the jokes just don’t work.”

From left, Ms. Bernard Ms. Lewandowski, Ms. Polo and Ms. Gatto make up the entire cast of “Savannah Sipping Society.”

But the cast of “The Savannah Sipping Society” seem to be on track with timing and delivery so far. Mr. Polo said rehearsals are at the point where it’s impossible to watch without laughing.

“The actors are finally able to say their lines without laughing, but while I’m in the audience watching, I can’t help but laugh at almost every line,” he said.

One of the actors in the four-person cast keeping him laughing is his wife, Chris, who is playing the role of Dot.

“She’s the oldest of the group, in her 60s which is great. I’ve been playing old women almost my whole life. But now I’m finally the right age for the part,” she said.

Ms. Polo has been with the Theatre Guild since 1990 and has frequently worked with her husband.

“Most of the time, it’s great,” she said. “We both love theater so it’s actually constructive to go home together after rehearsal and discuss what happened and what we could do differently.”

But with such a small cast for this show, Mr. Polo isn’t the only one getting into deep conversations about the show.

“It’s great because we get to all share our thoughts and ideas, and it’s never an overwhelming amount of opinions. It’s just right,” said Jill Lewandowski, who plays the role of Randa.

From left, Ms. Bernard Ms. Lewandowski, Ms. Polo and Ms. Gatto make up the entire cast of “Savannah Sipping Society.”

Ms. Lewandowski’s foray into acting was a little more spontaneous than the other actors’ deliberate plans.

“About seven years ago, my daughter was in a play and at the very last minute someone dropped out and she told me I had to step in, so I did,” she said.

Ms. Lewandowski’s character, Randa, recently lost her job to a younger male employee and is having trouble getting on her feet.

Bringing all of the characters together is Jinx, portrayed by Laini Bernard.

“Jinx is a life coach and always up for the challenge of helping people better themselves. But in this case, she actually ends up learning a lot from the other women, which really helps her out,” Ms. Bernard said.

Unlike the other actors in the show, comedy is Ms. Bernard’s favorite genre.

“I definitely feel more confident in comedic roles and I think my personality suits comedic characters,” she said.

But after performing in many large productions, the small cast is the most challenging part of the show for her.

From left, Patti Gatto as Marlafaye, Chris Polo as Dot, Laina Bernard as Jinx and Jill Lewandowski as Randa share life’s ups and downs and a whole lot of wine in Kent County Theatre Guild’s “Savannah Sipping Society.” (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“A show like this takes a lot more trust than a large cast because not only do you have to rely on yourself a lot more, because there’s more lines and you’re on stage most of the time, but you have to trust that your castmates will be there for you throughout out it — and they are,” she said.

“The Savannah Sipping Society” takes the stage at the Patchwork Playhouse at 140 Roosevelt Ave. in Dover on Feb. 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 17 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available at kctg.org.

Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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