MANSFIELD -- Gregg Ashbrook II has waited a long time for this happy hour.
"Savannah Sipping Society," a raucous, four-woman southern comedy based largely upon an impromptu happy hour, had been scheduled to stage this spring at the Mansfield Playhouse.
Delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the show opens Friday night for a two-weekend run, guest-directed by Ashbrook.
It's the first time Ashbrook has led a show at the 95 E. Third St. theater, though he has directed shows at the Historic Ohio State Reformatory and The Ohio State University-Mansfield campus.
An Ashland resident who works with youth at Ashland Parenting Plus, Ashbrook admitted it's been a bit odd to prepare a show during an ongoing pandemic.
"The show has been a bit of a challenge as we have spent the last few months with limited rehearsal time, wearing masks," he said. "At points, the masks add an extra challenge as they can muffle the sound and make it hard to understand each other.
"To add to it, so much of acting is reacting off one another. The limited amount of facial reactions has made it harder for the actors," said Ashbrook, who earned an English degree from The Ohio State University.
Ashbrook said he has benefitted from a veteran cast -- Mary Schalmo, Kanashay Grayeagle, Anita Adkins and Suzanne Allen.
"I have been blessed to have such a cast which is very dedicated, hardworking, and motivated to persevere. This show has allowed my cast and crew to feel a bit of normalcy in such a unique time we're living in," said Ashbrook, who has been involved in local theater for two decades.
He described "Savannah Sipping Society" as a comedy about a group of women who have ran into a life altering event that has left them feeling lost and confused as to where to go next.
"After chance brings them together, they decide to hire a beautician to be their life coach to help them rediscover the meaning of life. The show is about the journey life leads us on and the friends we make along the way," Ashbrook said.
"The piece that we can all relate to is how the friends we have and the life experiences that we share with them are what makes life worth living. Also, our friends can encourage us to put ourselves into some pretty ridiculous situations that help us build stronger relationships as we push forward searching for where we belong," he said.
The show's characters offer a wide range of strong personalities:
-- Randa (Grayeagle), a perfectionist and workaholic, is struggling to cope with a surprise career derailment that, unfortunately, reveals she has no life and no idea how to get one.
-- Dot (Allen), still reeling from her husband’s recent death and the loss of their plans for an idyllic retirement, faces the unsettling prospect of starting a new life from scratch—and all alone.
-- Marlafaye (Adkins), a good ol’ Texas gal, has blasted into Savannah in the wake of losing her cheating husband to a young dental hygienist. The strength of her desire to establish a new life is equaled only by her desire to wreak a righteous revenge on her ex.
-- Jinx (Schalmo), a spunky ball of fire, offers her services as a much-needed life coach for these women. However, blinded by her determination and efforts to get their lives on track, she over-looks the fact that she’s the one most in need of sage advice.
Show dates are Oct. 23-24 and Oct. 30-31 at 8 p.m.; and Nov. 1 at 2:30 p.m.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, seating will be limited to 85 audience members per show to comply with social distancing guidelines.
Tickets are $13 for general admission, $12 for seniors, $8 for 12-and-under. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 419-522-2883 or visit www.mansfieldplayhouse.com.