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'Savannah Sipping Society' at South Camden Theatre Company: Losses, laughs, flubs, and four likable women

The likable, very funny play is about four women who become friends through their shared losses. "Savannah" begins a laudable SCTC season devoted to works by women.

(Left to right:) Michelle Romano, Connie Norwood, Dawn Varava, and Stacy Skinner in “The Savannah Sipping Society,” through Feb. 25 at the South Camden Theatre Company.
(Left to right:) Michelle Romano, Connie Norwood, Dawn Varava, and Stacy Skinner in “The Savannah Sipping Society,” through Feb. 25 at the South Camden Theatre Company.Read moreRobert A. Bingaman

It was cold outside Friday night, but in a brave little theater in Camden all was warm hearts and Southern skies. Through Feb. 25, The Savannah Sipping Society, by the comedy factory of Jesse Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, is playing at the South Camden Theatre Company.

The play is a sweet aperitif for a laudable season at SCTC, concentrating on plays by women. The company also deserves kudos for its program offering $5 tickets to Camden residents.

Hats off to Jones/Hope/Wooten. According to their website, their 18 plays have enjoyed more than 4,900 runs. Their regional-theater-friendly comedies, usually set in the South, feature small casts and strong roles for female ensembles.

Much like their Dixie Swim Club, say, or The Hallelujah Girls, Savannah involves women-of-a-certain-age who meet periodically and get into various kinds of trouble. (Does that recall TV's Golden Girls? Wooten was a writer for it.) And is Savannah Sipping Society having a year: I count 53 productions scheduled for 2018.

This sturdy, indestructible vehicle concerns four women who become accidental friends through their shared losses. Randa (played with uptight shockability by Stacy Skinner) is a recently fired architect. Marlafaye (Dawn Varava, who got many of the night's biggest laughs as a Texas loudmouth) has fled her husband, who's canoodling with his dental hygienist. Dot (endearingly done by Connie Norwood) lost her spouse just as they were settling into retirement. Jinx (played with sparkle by former Eagles cheerleader Michelle Romano) is a would-be life coach but actual hairdresser watching as the only person in her life, her sister, leaves our world.

Jinx coaches her friends to start something new, be it salsa dancing, Renaissance fairs, or dating. Action happens offstage; the friends gather post-disaster to compare notes. One-liners abound about age ("If my memory gets any worse, I could throw myself my own surprise party"), weight ("Do you know they have found out that women who carry a little extra weight tend to live longer than the men who call it to their attention?"), and spousal disappointment ("He asked me his ideal weight, and I told him four pounds, including urn"). Sex after 50 is like moving house: "Get it done fast and eliminate as much of the agony as possible."

When I say indestructible, I mean this play can stand up to abuse. We had some Friday night, lines or props forgotten, cues ignored, jokes trampled. But it didn't seem to matter. Some of it is so TV-like that you wait for the laugh track. And you get an actual one: The audience, clearly relating.

Next up in this interesting season is the world premiere of the historical drama Artemisia by Philadelphia playwright Lee Kiszonas (May 4-20); By the Water, about the Jersey Shore and Hurricane Sandy, by Sharyn Rothstein (Sept. 7-23); and two-time Pulitzer-winner Lynn Nottage's Crumbs From the Table of Joy (Nov. 2-18).