Colonial Players The Curious SavageBy Betsy Marks Delaney • Sep 14th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Colonial Players Theater, Annapolis, MD
Through October 3rd
2:20, with one intermission
Reviewed September 11th, 2009
This gentle comedy originally produced in 1950 was written by John Patrick. In telling the story of Ethel P. Savage, a woman whose husband recently died and left her approximately ten million dollars, Patrick explores the inner life of madness and asks the question “what is sanity?” Patrick, an accomplished screenwriter is most easily recognized for his play The Teahouse of the August Moon, which earned him both a Pulitzer and a Tony, as well as movies including Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), High Society (1956) and Les Girls (1957).
The play is set in “The Cloisters,” a sanitarium for the well-to-do. Its inhabitants have adapted well to their surroundings and prove a welcoming presence to Mrs. Savage, whose three stepchildren have decided her increasingly unpredictable and embarrassing behavior after her husband’s death is an indication she’s become unstable and in need of institutionalization.
Patrick writes in his introduction to the play, “It is important in The Curious Savage that the gentle inmates of The Cloisters be played with warmth and dignity. Their home is not an asylum nor are these good people lunatics. Any exaggeration of the roles will rob them of charm and humor.” Gwen Morton has taken the playwright’s words to heart. The characters of Fairy May (Kirra Sharpe), Mrs. Paddy (Niji Ramunas), Florence (Josette Dubois), Jeffrey (Samuel Gillam) and Hannibal (Erik W. Alexis) are endowed with a with a grace that brings these “guests” to us and allows us to see that mental illness doesn’t take away the humanity of its victims.
It is that frailty that helps us see the depths of the contrast in the “sane, practical” and ultimately despicable behavior of the Savage siblings, Titus (Danny Brooks), Samuel (Rick Hall) and Lily Belle (Jeanne Louise) in their misguided bid to protect themselves by committing their stepmother. With this reverse fairy tale we are left to wonder who’s really crazy. It is Dr. Emmett (Lisa KB Gilbert) and Miss Wilhelmina (Ashley C. Hodak) who recognize and guide this play to its highly satisfying conclusion.
In these modern times, we can recognize the archetypes of the characters in The Cloisters. There are certainly shades of Harvey‘s character Elwood P. Dowd or of the Sycamores in You Can’t Take It With You in Joan Hamilton-Townsend‘s portrayal of Mrs. Savage as a soul who tries to do what she believes is the right thing with the money she’s been given by her husband.
For all that, this piece’s perspective is unique. Amusingly enough, it also fits with my taste for theatre about theatre: It is Mrs. Savage’s attempt at acting that finally sends her stepchildren over the brink.
It would be a shame to spoil the fun or the surprise twists in the ending. See for yourself! It’s more than worth the pain of finding parking in Annapolis to see this production. And when you get there, be sure to spend some time in the lobby reviewing the material there. The displays are quite informative on the subjects of the playwright, mental illness and hospitals. Christine McAlpine (costumes) and the set design and decoration team (below) have put together a world that pays very close attention to details. They’ve done a very nice job of placing us in the world of the post-war Cloisters.
My father fought in World War II, as did so many of his generation. The issues were simple then; at least, that’s how they seemed. The Japanese attacked us, we fought back. Germany was allied with Japan and intent on world domination, so we joined the battle in Europe. Compared to today’s complexities, the decisions seemed so easy. But many of the issues that faced the returning soldiers and their families seem eerily familiar. The phrase “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” was unknown in 1950, but Jeffrey clearly exhibits many of the symptoms. As we studied the characters that are “guests” of The Cloisters, we came to believe that many of them are there for reasons directly related to the war. In all times of war, we look for grace. Jeffrey, Florence, Fairy May, Hannibal, and Mrs. Paddy have created a family to replace those that were taken from them by war. And Mrs. Savage learns from them, as so many today continue to learn, that family is not always limited to the one you were given. Family are the people who help you become the person you were meant to be.
On a personal note, I have to say a special thanks to the family of Colonial Players. Not only did they take a chance on a newcomer to Annapolis to direct their first play of the season, they have held my hand every step of the way. Special thanks to Beth Terranova and Carol Youmans for being there from the beginning and Bob Brewer for putting together a stellar staff. I would like to mention every person who stepped in when a problem arose, but I don’t believe there is enough room in the program. Thank you to everyone! And a special thanks to a creative, supportive, patient, enthusiastic and fun-loving cast. I am thrilled to have such a great new family.
Photos by Colburn Images, for the Colonial Players.
- Florence: Josette Dubois
- Hannibal: Erik W. Alexis
- Fairy May: Kirra Sharpe
- Jeffrey: Samuel Gillam
- Mrs. Paddy: Niji Ramunas
- Miss Wilhelmina: Ashley C. Hodak
- Titus Savage: Danny Brooks
- Lily Belle Savage: Jeanne Louise
- Samuel Savage: Rick Hall
- Dr. Emmett: Lisa KB Gilbert
- Mrs. Ethel P Savage: Joan Hamilton-Townsend
- John Thomas: Sam Morton
- Director: Gwen Morton
- Stage Managers: Jean Mincher, Charlotte Robinson
- Production Manager: Dottie Meggers
- Assistant Directors: Darice Clewell, Jim Reiter
- Set Design: Gwen Morton, Dick Whaley
- Set Decoration: Beverly Hill van Joolen, Dick Whaley, Tom Ammon
- Set Painting: Carol Youmans, Dick Whaley, Dottie Meggers
- Set Construction: Dick Whaley
- Carpenters: Jim Robinson, Lee Craft
- Lighting Design: Jennifer Parris
- Lighting Assistants: Jim Parris, Novella Parris, Quintin Dustin, Wayne Keehner
- Lighting Technicians: Debby Hall, Jennifer, Mike Koon
- Sound Design: Andy Serb
- Sound Technicians: Andy Serb, Mike Koon
- Costume Design: Christina McAlpine
- Properties: Lois Bansher
- Properties Assistant: JoAnn Gidos
- Rehearsal Assistant: Angie Dey
- Play Consultant: Carol Youmans
- Technical Consultant Crisis Manager: Wes Bedsworth
- Playbill/Poster Design: Jim Gallagher
- Photography: Colburn Images
- Program Editor: Tom Stuckey
- Lobby Display: Jason Vaughan, Shannon Benil, Andrea Elward, Lois Evans
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Betsy Marks Delaney is founder and Artistic Director of OutOftheBlackBox Theatre Company (O2B2) and General Manager of the Greenbelt Arts Center. Since 2006 Betsy has worked as a director, producer, designer and more. Betsy has also worked with Washington Revels, Arena Stage, the now-defunct Harlequin Dinner Theatre and with community theatre companies both in Maryland and in upstate New York. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Technical Theatre from SUNY New Paltz. Through Hawkeswood Productions, Betsy produces archival performance videos and YouTube highlight spots.