Wednesday, May 25, 2016

WOBT: "The Curious Savage"

John Patrick's The Curious Savage (1950) at Prattville's "Way Off Broadway Theatre" is an old-fashioned comedy with a serious message or two that still resonate after more than half a century, due largely to director Sam Wallace's talented ensemble's ability to delineate credibly eccentric characters and speak Patrick's witty dialogue with perhaps the best vocal clarity heard recently from the Prattville stage.

Set in "the common room of The Cloisters rest home" [a polite euphemism for an insane asylum], the play is long on exposition but has its pay-offs. -- Wealthy eccentric title character Ethel Savage had lived the traditionally dutiful life of a wife who sacrificed her own wishes to support her husband's, but who always wanted more bohemian experiences. Recently widowed with a $10-million inheritance, she intends to distribute the funds to people who might use it for harmless artistic or altruistic enterprises, much to the dismay of her three greedy and unscrupulous adult stepchildren who do everything in their power to claim the fortune for themselves; and their first step is to have her "committed" [a task much easier in the 1950s than today].

Mrs. Savage [Michon R. Givens] fits right in with the other "guests" at 'The Cloisters' by treating them politely as if their individual foibles are normal; none of them is violent. Clutching a stuffed Teddy Bear, her own idiosyncrasies are accepted by them in turn. -- It is to their credit that all of the actors treat their characters' erratic behavior as if it was the most common thing in the world...and audiences tend to like them. Florence [Abby Brasel] treats a doll as if it was human, being the substitute child she had lost and now grieves; Hannibal [Matthew A. Givens] plays the violin badly, but has an encyclopedic knowledge; Jeffrey [T. J. Maddox] hides an imagined facial scar that represents the guilt he feels for surviving a war which took the lives of many friends; Fairy May [Meghan Yapana Ducote] needs constant confirmation of love from others to give meaning to her life; and Mrs. Paddy [Rae Ann Collier] recites litanies of all the things she hates but is otherwise silent.

When the Savage stepchildren scheme to wrest the millions from Mrs. Savage, they find that she has put all the money into negotiable bonds that she has hidden, but she refuses to say where. As they gang up on her, Titus [Eric Arvidson], a corrupt Senator, Lily Belle [Letha Moore], a spoiled and often married social-climber, and Samuel [John Collier], a ne'er-do-well petulant sort, stoop to threats that the kindly Dr. Emmett [Mike DeLaura] and sympathetic nurse Miss Wilhemina [Tracey Maggard] try their best to keep under professional control.

It seems there is only a small difference between madness and sanity. Patrick's script makes ample use of metaphors that clearly cast these opposites against each other, and moralizes a bit on themes of justice vs. the law, regimented behavior vs. freedom to be foolish, and the distinctions between monetary worth and individual value. The greedy stepchildren vs. the altruistic "guests" at 'The Cloisters'. -- How we treat others is the mark of our own worth.

And the WOBT Players invest such honesty in their portrayals, provide audiences with plenty of laughs at the expense of the greedy characters, and earn the applause they receive.