Sometimes, the difference between “sane” and “insane” isn’t as cut and dry as two letters. It is this difference and the blurred lines between the definitions of these words that The Curious Savage, John Patrick’s well-known 1950 play, ponders. It does so comically but with plenty of poignant moments along the way. The latest to tackle the delicate balance of this show is Forest Moon Theater with its production directed by Mike McGee. Fortunately, Forest Moon’s version hits all the right notes thanks largely to a strong cast and subtle directing choices that bring out the beauty and richness of Patrick’s sweet, thoughtful script, which is holding up remarkably well for its age.
The story plays out at “The Cloisters,” a private sanatorium full of “guests”/patients suffering from various delusions.This institution is brought to life through a vibrant, colorful set which feels anything but “institutional;” instead, it feels homey and warm, which is appropriate since, for the residents, the Cloisters is very much their home and their safe haven from the world outside.
When Ethel Savage (Louise Farmer) is forced into the tight-knit community by her spoiled, greedy stepchildren who detest her eccentric but ultimately harmless ways, chaos ensues. However, Ethel’s time at the home also serves as a journey that helps her discover more about herself and the world around her. Furthermore, it has an impact on the other residents and even on the staff, but, most importantly, through her stay and despite the many laughs the show brings, the audience is asked to question where the line between sanity and insanity lies and to dig deep and consider the lies each person tells himself in real life.
One of the strengths of Patrick’s script, aside from its introspective bent, is the way that he so carefully and fully creates the flawed but lovable characters who reside at The Cloisters. One of the best is childlike Fairy May, a girl prone to lies and exaggerations. She is brought fully to life by Kylee Silvas, who steals the show on more than one occasion. Silvas is bursting with energy in her portrayal of Fairy May, and she has a real knack for comedic timing in addition to fully exemplifying her character’s youthful nature and more endearing qualities. Likewise, Ashley Jones offers up a soft, tender portrayal of Florence, a woman who appears normal and even refined…except for the fact that she “mothers” a doll. Lisa Binion is another standout among the ladies with her gruff, slightly maniacal portrayal of Mrs. Paddy, a woman who prefers to paint instead of speak…unless she is listing things she hates. And then, of course, there’s Farmer in the title role. With her blue hair and her knack for nailing the show’s softer moments, Farmer does a solid job tackling the emotional parts of the script. And, as for the male resident, Joey Desena creates a Hannibal who is no-nonsense and factual while Danny Mullins has just the right vulnerable touches as Jeffrey, a former military pilot who has gone through a tragic ordeal
Outside of the Cloister residents, Randy Jones, Kathleen Jacob, and Tom Barbieri are a collective riot to watch in their roles as the greedy Savage stepchildren. The real standout here, however, is Jacob, who is not afraid to squeal, writhe, and basically get physical in her role as the spoiled, money-hungry Lily Belle Savage.
As mentioned, the script has (mostly) held up very well for its age; in fact, in some regards, it even seems more relevant now. However, there are a few flaws that show through Patrick’s work. Some of the monologues he gives his characters are too long and lilting to be believable as dialogue, and there are some moments where he could stand to be a bit less “on the nose.” However, the direction, which always ensures there are plenty of things/activities of visual interest on stage, largely makes up for these small flaws. Also to love here are the period-appropriate costumes and the nice use of color throughout.
The Curious Savage may be an old show and a slightly imperfect one, but, ultimately, it is funny, charming, and, at times, even tear-inducing. This particular production is a very nice, almost vintage rendition of an old favorite.
The Forest Moon Theater presents THE CURIOUS SAVAGE at 7:30 p.m. June 24 and 3 p.m. June 25 Wake Forest Renaissance Centre for the Arts, 405 S. Brooks St., Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587.
TICKETS: $15 ($13 students and seniors 65+) in advance and $18 ($16 students and seniors 65+) the day of the show.
BOX OFFICE: http://www.etix.com/ticket/.
INFORMATION: 919-435-2001 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2016-17 SEASON: http://www.forestmoontheater.org/current-season/.
The Curious Savage (1950 Broadway comedy): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1154 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/the-curious-savage-2861 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curious_Savage (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
John Patrick (Louisville, KY-born playwright and screenwriter, nee John Patrick Goggin, 1905-95): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-patrick-6884 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0665875/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Patrick_(dramatist) (Wikipedia).
Mike McGee (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/Mike.McGee9 (Facebook page).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.