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The Savannah Disputation: Features Serious Debates with Perfect Comedic Timing

Erin P. Doherty
By Erin P. Doherty
Posted on May 01,2019
Filed Under Entertainment , Local Style,

Photo by Kyle Reardon
Ashley Amidon as Melissa

ALEXANDRIA, VA. - In our youth-obsessed culture, one might find it refreshing that this show features strong senior women. Equally refreshing is Evan Smith’s humorous treatment of damnation-related dialogue.

An audience member, who anticipated a Catholic-bashing show, said, “I do not think I am going to like this very much.” However, after the play, she said, “Hey, they took a difficult subject and did a nice job with it.”

Reviews of previous productions have criticized this play for “not going deep enough” but maybe they are missing the point.Despite their differences in religious beliefs and personalities, Mary, Margaret, Melissa and Father Murphy, have something in common: loneliness. The characters, after some debates, unintentionally find common ground in that all kinds of people need community, especially those who pretend not to have any use for it.

Margaret (Patricia Spencer Smith) keeps to herself and picks her battles. Her sweetness and uncertainty about what she believes when she reads evangelical literature, belie the strong, intelligent, and free-thinking woman she is inside.

Margaret’s sister, Mary (Mary Jo Morgan) overshares complaints and talks over her soft-spoken sister. ). Cantankerous, curmudgeonly, and confrontational, Mary believes everyone is entitled to her opinion. She even has the last word in her first exchange with Melissa, informing her, “I know Jesus loves me. It’s you he hates.”

Melissa (Ashley Amidon) is a young door-to-door evangelist with many misconceptions regarding the Catholic faith and, like Mary, is more concerned with being rightthan she is about understanding other points of view and finding truth or common ground.For example, Melissa alienates the sisters with a warning that their Catholicism will lead them straight to hell.

Father Murphy (Michael J. Fisher) says it all with his facial expressions and body language, although he has the fewest lines. He responds on an intellectual level to Melissa’s contentious questions and accusations about the church. When Melissa mistakenly calls him “Father McKenzie,” Murphy points out that Father McKenzie was the priest in “Eleanor Rigby.”To combat his loneliness, Father Murphy writes books on obscure points of theology, i.e., the “sermons that no one will hear” referenced in “Eleanor Rigby.” His social life is limited to Thursday dinner at the sisters’ house.

In the Disputation scholastic system of the Middle Ages, disputations offered a formalized method of debate designed to uncover and establish theological and scientific truths. Fixed rules governed the process: they demanded dependence on traditional written authorities and the thorough understanding of each argument on each side. However, Mary and Melissa are more interested in just winning the argument by exchanging zingers, such as the following, with perfect comedic timing:

Mary: “You are mistaking holy water for Lourdes water”

Melissa:“Your whole church is founded upon a grammatical error.”).

The ordinary clothing the characters wear emphasize everyday life. The set is also well done, without being overdone, as always. Stained glass windows, and Catholic statues surround an ordinary living room and dining table. The lighting subtly changes with the time of day and the sound cues–including cell phone ring tones and repeated ominous phone messages about medical test results–are also perfectly timed.

Enjoy the Little Theatre of Alexandria’s (LTA’s) 90-minute production of “The Savannah Disputation,” which runs through May 18. Saturday shows are at 8 p.m.; Sundays are at 3 p.m. Tickets are $21 to $24. The venue is located at 600 Wolfe St., Alexandria. Visit

Photo by Kyle Reardon
Michael Fisher as Father Murphy

Photo by Kyle Reardon
Mary Jo Morgan as Mary, Michael Fisher as Father Murphy and Patricia Spencer Smith as Margaret

Photo by Kyle Reardon
Mary Jo Morgan as Mary

Photo by Kyle Reardon
Patricia Spencer Smith as Margaret and Mary Jo Morgan as Mary

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