Monday, August 17, 2009

Witty Savannah disputes the value of your own personal Jesus

Posted By on Mon, Aug 17, 2009 at 5:08 PM

Melissa (Mary Kathryn Kaye, from left), Margaret (Nita Hardy), Father Murphy (Peter Thomasson) and Mary (Judy Leavell) engage in a religious debate.
FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE: Melissa (Mary Kathryn Kaye, from left), Margaret (Nita Hardy), Father Murphy (Peter Thomasson) and Mary (Judy Leavell) engage in a religious debate.

Theatre in the Square’s Southern comedy The Savannah Disputation bears little resemblance to the disturbing drama Doubt, but both rest on similar foundations. John Patrick Shanley’s hit play-turned-Oscar-nominated film used a 1960s church scandal to consider the dangers of blind faith and the virtues of doubt.

The Savannah Disputation tells a considerably lighter story, with bickering, mismatched characters and contrived confrontations suitable for a TV sitcom. Yet the comedic efficiency of Savannah-based playwright Evan Smith supports a deceptively thoughtful discussion of the complexities of religious belief. The opening play of Theatre in the Square’s 28th season, The Savannah Disputation supports the Marietta playhouse’s solid track record for pleasing audiences without pandering to them.

The play takes place at the home of two Catholic spinsters: divorced, crotchety Mary (Judy Leavell), and meek, never-married Margaret (Nita Hardy). Mary proves to be both a devout church-goer and a holy terror with a litany of complaints and putdowns for fellow parishioners and passers-by. In contrast, Margaret is well-meaning but wishy-washy and seems to have a mysterious health ailment (a point the play doesn’t overemphasize). Leavell’s hard-charging hostility finds a fitting foil in Hardy’s benign, ethereal approach.

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(Photo by MJ Conboy)

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