Port City Playhouse The Curious SavageBy Amanda Lipon • Jun 16th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Port City Playhouse
Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Alexandria, VA
$16/$14 Seniors and Juniors
Playing through June 20th
Reviewed June 14th, 2009
What if the world around you stopped making sense and the people in it were selfish, cruel and didn’t understand you? What if you went to another place, where everything was simple and scheduled everyone was unfailingly polite and congenial, if a bit peculiar? Would you stay in this second world…even if it were a nuthouse? Ethyl P. Savage ultimately faces this question that in the play, The Curious Savage, currently being performed by the Port City Playhouse (PCP).
In the play, Ethyl, an eccentric octogenarian played by Bonnie Jourdan, has a fierce desire to fulfill other people’s fantasies. When her husband dies, she starts a memorial fund for this purpose with her ten-million dollar inheritance. Her adult step-children, however, are determined to get her share of the money. Savage hides her fortune and convinces her step-children that she’s forgotten where she put it. Livid that she won’t hand over the money, they have her committed to a private sanatorium called the Cloisters, on the grounds that no “sane” person would give away millions of dollars to satisfy the foolish dreams of strangers.
At the Cloisters, Savage encounters a number of endearing, but fragile, “guests” who each suffer a major psychological flaw. Florence Williams, played with tragic dignity by Wendy R. Couchman, carries around a doll, believing it to be the son that was taken away from her. Fairy May, enthusiastically played by Jacqueline Mathis, has a pathological need for attention because she was abandoned as a child. Hannibal (John T. Adams III), a high-strung, former statistician, believes his has a genius for the violin, although he is completely talentless. Hannibal holds nightly concerts for the residents, while Jeffery (Spencer Tamney), an extremely talented pianist, refuses to play in front of anyone because he deludedly thinks he was horribly disfigured in World War II. Rounding out the group of misfits is Mrs. Paddy (Angela Le Blanc), who quietly scowls and paints puerile seascapes, occasionally shouting out a litany of the things she hates. The residents are cared for by the capable and pleasant staff: warm-hearted nurse, Miss Willie (portrayed with sincerity by Corrine Bush) and the soft-spoken Dr. Emmett (Jamin Hill).
Throughout the play, Ethyl is visited (read: assailed) by her three step-children. They are scheming, self-interested caricatures of people, too vain, dim and gullible to be real (actors Joseph Le Blanc, Morrigan Condo and Michael J. Switalski do the best they can with their decidedly two-dimensional characters). Ethyl convinces them to search for her buried fortune in a variety of ridiculous locations, leading to their humiliation and social ruin. Ultimately they are tricked into believing that the bonds were destroyed and slink away from the Cloisters, defeated and impoverished.
Although each actor does good job of portraying his or her character’s unique quirks, Ethyl is really the only role in the play who is well-developed. Jourdan plays the part with the right dose of mischief and levity, sometimes reveling in her personae as dotty old lady, occasionally furious at her circumstances and her step-children, and finally, torn about returning to the real world and leaving behind her new friends, who are emotionally incapable of joining her. I would have liked to see more connection between the characters and more development of the relationships, although farewell scene goes a long way to develop both depth and lovability in each guest’s character and their relationship with Ethyl.
Finally, the cast and crew did a commendable job of adapting to a new venue when a burst water pipe temporarily shut down the Nannie J. Lee Rec Center. The acoustics were excellent and the set felt proportionate to the stage. Only a few minor details (some backstage light bleeding onto the stage during crucial blackouts, and a few dim spots in the upstage right corner) hinted at the major, eleventh hour change in location.
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Amanda Lipon is an attorney by day and true theater amateur by night, having participated in a variety of roles both on and off the stage (mostly for free). Favorite credits include Anne in A Little Night Music (Quadramics), Mrs. Walker in Tommy (Pennsylvania Players) and Mona Stanley in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Quadramics). Amanda was seen most recently as Irene in Crazy for You, presented by the Pickwick Players.