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Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010

A Religious Experience at Boulevard’s ‘Savannah Disputation’

Theater Review

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Start with two elderly sisters steeped in their Catholic faith and living together in Savannah, Ga., add in one young woman bound and determined to convert them to her religious views, and throw in the priest of the local Catholic parish. Now you have the combustible ingredients that make up The Savannah Disputation, Evan Smith’s serio-comedy of biblical interpretations and philosophical debates that opened at the Boulevard Theatre last week.Sisters Mary and Margaret argue between themselves about who will be saved and what life will be like in the afterlife, as Evangelical missionary Melissa manages to get the two to question their own beliefs. Soon, however, Mary sets up an unknowing Father Murphy to debate and convert Melissa to “their side.”

Playwright Smith has done his research into theological debate and meaning, which changes based on what version of the Good Book is being discussed. Despite the excess biblical verbiage and debates that feel endless, the cast ably manages to keep the 98 minutes (no intermission) engaging under the direction of Boulevard Artistic Director Mark Bucher.

Sally Marks makes the most of her role as the cynical, hard-bitten Mary, who has little compassion and understanding for those who think differently and, god forbid, cross her path. As the sweet, innocent sister Margaret, Joan End is the perfectly balanced counterpart to Marks’ toughened Mary, as End delicately portrays Margaret’s seemingly simple outlook as a way to avoid self-truths, for a while at least.

Jamieson Hawkins excels as the missionary-in-the-making, keeping us guessing as to what she will do next and slowly showing her underlying vulnerability, while all the time subtly working to rescue the sisters from their hellish destiny.

As with most serious theological debates, there are no clear-cut answers in The Savannah Disputation. Smith leaves the ending ambiguous, allowing audiences to make choices based on their own beliefs.

The Savannah Disputation
runs through Jan. 16, 2011, at the Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theater, 2252 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
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