Playwright Jack Heifner (Vanities) has captured a humorous yet touching glimpse of small-town America in Patio/Porch, two short plays that will be presented by Savannah Community Theatre March 6-8 at the Landings.
In Patio, Pearl is throwing a going-away party for her older sister, Jewel, at her home in Texas. In Porch, the lives of a crotchety and ill elderly mother and her spinster daughter have been impacted by a sweltering heat wave.
“It’s a comedy with a little bit of a serious tone,” Director Tom Coleman III says. “It has just two actresses. In Act One, they play two sisters who live in a small Texas town. They’re decorating their patio for a meal where they’ve invited friends. It’s a going-away party for one of them.”
The play explores everyday emotions. “It’s about what it means to say goodbye to someone, or even whether or not to say goodbye to them,” Coleman says. “(Heifner) calls it a play about relationships. It’s got some very funny dialogue. The whole idea is what makes us stay in one place and what makes us leave.”
The setting for both acts is a house with a stone patio and a porch. “The first act all takes place on the patio, the second on the porch,” Coleman says.
The second takes place several years after the first. “The flower boxes are gone, the furniture rearranged,” Coleman says. “You know it’s the same house but someone else is living there.”
Although the setting is the same in both acts, the actresses take on completely different roles in the second act. “One becomes a mother who is 70 years old, the other her daughter, age 40,” Coleman says.
“The daughter has been relegated to take care of her mother because the father has died,” he says. “It deals with the question, is she obligated to be there, does she wants to be, or is she waiting for her mother to die?”
That may sound serious, but it’s told with a lot of humor, Coleman says. “It’s a fun character study on relationships, with a lot of topics and conversations everyone can relate to,” he says.
Coleman’s actors say he is a genius at blocking, or moving people around the stage. But while the characters in Patio/Porch do move, they’re mostly relegated to porch chairs.
“A lot has to come through the dialogue and acting,” Coleman says. “This is a story show.”
The show’s stars, Sandra Nix and Suzanne Cone, were both in Savannah Community Theatre’s opening show, Radio Gals. They’re best friends in real life, and have been since they met in college at Valdosta State, where both majored in theater.
Nix plays the younger sister, Pearl, in the first act, and the daughter, Lucille, in the second. “Pearl is high strung, so everything has to be just right, as far as her house goes,” Nix says. “In the second act, the daughter is a little beat down by her life and her mother.”
Portraying two completely different characters is a lot of work. “I’m learning the lines, and I think about character things — how they walk, how they sit,” Nix says. “I’m trying to change the actual tone of voice to differentiate between the two.”
In 2002, Nix came to Savannah to do a show, and two years ago, moved here. She’s been involved in community theater ever since. This is her third show with Coleman as the director.
“Suzanne and I have been friends a long time,” she says. “We’ve been in shows together, but we never played off each other like this.”
Audiences will have a good time at Patio/Porch, Nix says. “It’s going to be very funny, but you also see what these women are going through,” she says.
“We see how women get tied up in marriage and trying to make it work, then what happens when it doesn’t. We get to see the love of two sisters also.”
Cone says the characters are very funny. “My character in Patio is a hairdresser, and she’s planning on leaving this hick town behind and going to Hollywood to become a hair dresser and makeup artist to the stars,” Cone says.
“She’s says she’s going to buy a trailer and park it smack-dab in the ‘O’ of the Hollywood sign. The writing is absolutely hilarious.
“In the second act, I play a crotchety old woman who never stops talking, which is terrifying me!” Cone says. “She has a ton of lines.
“The way Heifner writes them, they are over the top, but there is so much truth to their emotions and the way they think and speak,” she says. “He makes them a bit exaggerated, and at first think, you think they aren’t real, then you realize they are totally real.”
Nix and Cone have been spending a lot of time working on their lines. “I’ve been observing older folks, to get the mannerisms down,” Cone says.
“I’ve been watching the eccentricities you get to have when you’re 80 years old, and the candor. This woman will speak off the cuff and doesn’t care about anything. She doesn’t filter, she doesn’t care what effect her remarks have on anyone.
“She thinks she has all answers, too,” Cone says. “Her daughter would beg to differ.”
Cone says she loves both of her characters. “Their stories, especially the old woman’s, are hilarious,” she says. “They are things that have really happened in her life. She’s leading her daughter on to want to know the end of the story.”
A native of Savannah, Cone also lived for a time in New York, but only did a little bit of theater there. “I ended up right away with a computer company,” she says. “I ended up going to the theater to see plays and never actually auditioned for anything.”
Eventually, Cone returned because she has family here. “I love Savannah,” she says. Just recently, she’s gotten involved in theater again.
“Sandra and I have done musical reviews together,” Cone says. “But we never got to do a straight play together where the characters play off each other.”
Audiences will enjoy Patio/Porch, Cone says. “If you want an evening where you will really belly-laugh at the characters, you should definitely see this show,” she says.
“There is some poignancy to the characters,” she says. “You will love them and go away with a good feeling.” cs
Savannah Community Theatre: Patio/Porch
Two short plays set in the backyard of the same middle-class Texas home.
When: March 6 and 7, 8pm; March 8, 3pm.
Where: The Plantation Club, The Landings, Skidaway Island.
Cost: Tickets: are $15-$25.