Penguin Rep Opens 2014 Theater Season with comedy ‘The Savannah Disputation’

Show written by Evan Smith, directed by Mark Shanahan

Story edited by Bill Demarest

Penguin Rep's Bobbi Lewis Barn Theatre in Stony Point
Penguin Rep’s Bobbi Lewis Barn Theatre in Stony Point

STONY POINT – Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Point opens its 2014 season officially on May 16 with its production of “The Savannah Disputation,” written by Evan Smith and directed by Mark Shanahan.

The Savannah Disputation is “a heaven-sent comedy with a strong message,” according to Penguin Rep artistic director Joe Brancato.

Characters Mary and Margaret forget all about Southern hospitality when a young Barbie-Doll-of-an-evangelist comes knocking at their front door and shakes up their beliefs. Faced with her persistent cheerfulness, the two sisters are forced to call in their local priest for backup.

“Who knew that faith could be such a funny business,” said Brancato, “in this comic look at faith and morals in the not-so-United States.”

The first of the four mainstage productions selected for the Stony Point-based nonprofit professional theatre’s 37th season, The Savannah Disputation will be presented through Sunday, June 8.

The cast of The Savannah Disputation includes:

– Tina Johnson (as Margaret), a veteran of such Broadway shows as State Farm, Damn Yankees, She Loves Me, South Pacific, Festival, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (in which she played Angel).

– Susan Pellegrino (Mary), who has been seen on Broadway in Equus with Daniel Radcliff and Richard Griffiths, Prelude to a Kiss with John Mahoney, Present Laughter with Frank Langella and Allison Janney, Robert Schenkkan’s The Kentucky Cycle, and Richard Nelson’s Two Shakespearean Actors.

– Bill Phillips (Father Murphy), who was last seen on the Penguin stage in Centennial Casting, and who recently worked opposite Kevin Spacey in the Netflix series, House of Cards, playing another man of the cloth, Reverend Jenkins; and Kate Siepert (Melissa), who originated the role of Julie in the Florida Studio Theatre production of Perfect Wedding, and who will be reprising it at the Cape Playhouse this summer.

Director Mark Shanahan staged Penguin Rep’s productions of The Farm, Woman in Black and Hound of the Baskervilles, and appeared as an actor in Penguin’s Women Who Steal and Mrs. Mannerly. An Edgar Award-nominated playwright, his Off-Broadway acting credits include Tryst and As Bees in Honey Drown.

The Savannah Disputation was premiered by The Writers Theatre in Chicago and subsequently produced by Playwrights Horizons in New York City.

The production team for The Savannah Disputation includes designers David L. Arsenault (set), Patricia E. Doherty (costumes), Martin E. Vreeland (lights), and Colin Whitely (sound); properties/technical director Kyle Bridwell and stage manager Cameron Berne.

Performance days and times for The Savannah Disputation are: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. A special reduced-priced weekday matinee performance is slated for Friday, May 16, at 2 p.m.

Performances are scheduled at Penguin Rep Theatre’s intimate, 108-seat theatre located at 7 Crickettown Road. The facility, a converted 1880s hay barn which was upgraded in 1986 and 2007, features air conditioning, wheelchair accessible rest rooms and entrance, upholstered theatre seats, and plenty of free parking.

Following The Savannah Disputation in Penguin Rep’s 2014 season is the New York premiere of “Sex and Education,” directed by Brancato, from June 27 through July 20.

“In this daring new comedy by Lissa Levin, we meet Joe Marks, a basketball star whose college scholarship is suddenly in jeopardy when his poorly-written, profanity-laced note to his girlfriend is intercepted during a final exam. We also meet Miss Edwards, his high school teacher on her last day of teaching,” said Brancato. “In this hilarious homage to educators everywhere, Miss Edwards uses the note to teach Joe a lesson – on life, love, and the power of words.”

According to Brancato, Sex and Education, which features explicit language, “is for mature adults who don’t shock easily and for every high school and college kid who probably won’t be shocked in the least!”

Summer 2014 brings “The Fabulous Lipitones,” a comedy by John Markus (head writer for The Cosby Show) and Mark St. Germain (Freud’s Last Session, Becoming Dr. Ruth), in its New York premiere (Aug. 8 – Aug. 31).

When a barbershop quartet tries to bounce back after the loss of one of its prized voices, it is forced to recruit a replacement whose music and culture couldn’t be more different from theirs.

“This leads to a very funny story – complete with songs — about what it takes to create real harmony,” said Brancato, “and will leave you singing, smiling, and thinking about how to embrace our differences.”

Closing the season will be the New York premiere of “Playing the Assassin,” described by Brancato, who will stage it, as “an explosive look at hero worship and sports violence, inspired by a true story.” Brancato noted that football heroes seem to be the “gladiators” of our time, and this story about a compelling meeting between a passionate young TV interviewer and one-time NFL star Frank Baker, who decades before had been dubbed ‘The Assassin’ for his brutal tackles.

Playing the Assassin will be presented Sept. 19 through Oct. 12.

Subscriptions to 2014 mainstage productions are on sale and start as low as $107 for the four plays.

Individual tickets to The Savannah Disputation are $40 each (plus a $1 per ticket service charge). An early ordering discount ($32) is available if tickets are ordered prior to May 18. Discounts are also available for groups of 10 or more and young people (30 and under).

For tickets or for further information, check out Penguin Rep’s website at or call 845-786-2873.

Penguin Rep Theatre’s 2014 season is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Penguin Rep also acknowledges the support of Rockland County and the Town of Stony Point, as well as the Shubert Foundation, the Cory and Bob Donnalley Charitable Foundation and the Richtenthal Foundation.

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