John Patrick's pleasant little comedy about the goings-on in a private Massachusetts sanitarium wasn't a big hit on Broadway back in the '50s, but it's easy to see why audiences in "regional theater" country love it.
It ran only 31 performances during its initial Broadway run, with Lillian Gish in the leading role of Ethel Savage, a madcap millionairess with a penchant for dipping into her "Happiness Fund" and giving away money to nearly everyone she meets - to the considerable dismay of her greedy step-children."Laughter is good therapy," says the clinic's busy doctor, during one of his conversations in the play - and, if that's the case, then Pages Lane's "The Curious Savage" should be a "healthy" experience for one and all.
It's a delightful little show that manages to make an important statement - namely that degrees of insanity, much like beauty, are in the eyes of the beholder. And sometimes those we brand "mentally incompetent" have just as much to contribute as those who we claim are "normal."
Ethel Savage (played by the wonderful Beverly Olsen, who also directed) proves this very point when she turns the tables on her late husband's greedy offspring - one a politically inept senator (he keeps getting re-elected because that's the only way his constituents can keep him out of his home state), one a prominent Boston jurist and the third a woman whose profession seems to be getting married and divorced.
"The Curious Savage" is a blend of thoughtful, poignant moments and high hilarity, and there's plenty of both when the greedy kinfolk get their come-uppance, especially when they realize that Mrs. Savage's newfound friends at The Cloisters are more important to her than any piddling $10 million in negotiable bonds.
The cast for "Curious Savage" includes both experienced and novice players. Standouts are Tami Sylvester as Fairy May, Virginia Baker as Mrs. Paddy, Dee Ann Blair as the wrathful Lily Belle, Gordon Johnson as Sen. Titus Savage, Ronnie B. Hyer as Jeffrey (a young man emotionally scarred by a devastating war experience) and Kenneth R. Bills as Hannibal.
But the central character in all of this is Ethel Savage, and Olsen gives a fine performance as the tender-hearted woman who just wants to help her fellow man.
The theater-in-the-round setting works well for this nifty little comedy, but there were some changes in the original dialogue that were a little disconcerting - such as one patient's reference to BYU, ex-statistician Hannibal's reference to electronic calculators, and Fairy May's comment about Nintendo, especially silly when you consider that neither of the last two items were available in 1950.