“The Curious Savage” by Midvale Arts is Not to be Missed

Midvale - Curious Savage - Image 1

L – R Nancy B. Jensen as Mrs. Savage, Candice J. Jorgensen as Mrs. Paddy, Mark Hanson as Hannibal, Melody Marse as Florence, Tiffany Stoddard as Fairy May, and Wade Walker as Jeffrey

MIDVALE — We saw “The Curious Savage” last night in Midvale. I will say this from the get-go in case you don’t have time to read the rest of the review: Do not miss this show. Go to the bottom of the review for the show’s performance dates, and rearrange your schedule if you must so you can go. I am insisting on this.

My journey with “The Curious Savage” began when I contacted the assistant director, Craig Clifford, a few days before opening night. He called me back promptly and our ensuing conversation made me eager to see the production. He is a delightful man, easy to talk to, and excited about his show. He should be.

Usually in these reviews, I discuss the costumes, the set, blah blah. I’m saying this in passing, only because I want to focus on the meat of the theater itself, the play, and its company of actors and crew: The costumes were period (the show takes place in the ’50s) and wonderful, and the set was awesome, down to great detail of having a live goldfish in its bowl on the bookshelf.

The theater in Midvale is the old City Hall building. I thought when I heard this from Craig, “Oh, here we go, another tacky theater.” Uh, no. The lovely old brick building is well-preserved, and what they have inside is a lovely, up-to-date theater, cozy with its 150 seats, and sound board and light board on the balcony that also houses a few rows of folding chairs for the audience, above regular theater seats on the floor level. My son, husband, and I were escorted to our front row balcony chairs and greeted by Craig Clifford and the producer, Suzanne Walker. The atmosphere in the theater was one of camaraderie and friendship, and I’m sure many of the patrons were from Midvale, a small, darling town. Almost every seat was filled, and for an opening night in a community theater, this is saying something.

Because the theater is so small, the actors didn’t need to use mics. Hooray! For the first time in a long, long time, we were blessed to hear ‘real’ actors’ voices, warm, rich, and projected well, as it should be always, in this reviewer’s opinion.

The Curious Savage, written by John Patrick, is a comedic play about Ethel P. Savage, a woman whose husband recently died and left her approximately ten million dollars. She is assigned by her evil stepchildren to a ‘home’ until she’ll reveal what she’s done with the money. Primarily a comedy, the play sets up a contrast between the sanatorium inmates and Mrs. Savage’s stepchildren. By the end of the play, the viewer wonders who the crazy ones really are. Mrs. Savage, played expertly by Nancy B. Jensen arrives to meet the people at “The Cloisters.” She immediately finds these people delightful, and instinctively realizes not only their ‘issues’, but the beauty within each person.

Kudos to the director Stephanie Johnson and her staff for casting the players in The Curious Savage. Midvale has some serious talent. Hannibal played by Mark Hanson, Fairy Mae by Tiffany Stoddard, Jeffrey by Wade Walker, Mrs. Paddy by Candice J. Jorgensen, Miss Willie by Nichole Marie Omana, Titus Savage by Matthew Baker, Samuel Savage by Scott Stone, Lily Belle Savage by Catherine Nelson Bonham, Dr. Emmet by Tim Frost, Florence by Melody Marse, and little John Thomas by Nathan Clifford make an incredible cast. I would single them all out individually in their performances, but I won’t, simply because each actor played his or her character so perfectly, I saw nothing of their own selves. They became their characters so completely, so carefully that I was convinced. I had what’s called an exact Suspension of Disbelief. Their comedic timing was spot on, their blocking and movement onstage was perfect, the show fanned out like it was real. I wanted it to be real. I was watching this family of patients at “The Cloisters”, and what a family they were.

As is expected, I instantly loathed and laughed at the Bad Guys, the Savage children, and loved and rooted for and laughed with the Cloister Group. I won’t go into detail about the story except to say that though it’s formulaic, good versus evil, the nuances of the piece are perceptive and poignant, and the ending is a knock out. Yes, I felt myself tearing up in the finale. Who can resist a show that brings both laughter and tears to its audience?

The closing music, Barenaked Ladies’ “If I had a Million Dollars” leant a cool, modern tone to this production.
Usually when I’ve reviewing a show, I’m scribbling random notes about this and that. I spent the majority of this play either watching, captivated, or writing down actual dialogue from the play. Here are a few of the quotes.
From Mrs. Savage, who decides after she becomes a widow, she has the time, the money, and the freedom to do what she wants, so she does it. (Freedom is a big theme for Mrs. Savage.) Among her brilliant lines are:

  • “If I’d been a fool in my youth, no one would notice it in my old age.”
  • “Hell hath no music like a woman playing second fiddle.”
  • “Man, by nature, is an optimist. If not, he’d eat his children.”
  • “I refuse to submit to the tyranny of mathematics.”
  • “Freedom is the right to make the wrong decisions.”
  • “It doesn’t matter how much we have, we never forget the things we want.”

Fairy Mae also says one of my favorite quotes from the play: “Nothing makes the truth so shabby as a magnificent lie.”

The themes of this play, which are woven throughout, are: love and the many ways to proclaim it, what is and isn’t crazy, greed and the willingness to share, whether it is good and right to live an ‘eggshell’ existence (as those do who reside in The Cloisters) versus living in the real world, and what makes up a loving family: familial relatives or friends who care for you.

As I end this review, my throat is still all tight. I want to cry just a bit more, for many reasons. First, I was reluctant to even review this show—I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice. Second, the messages in the show are so universal yet so intimately personal, I felt them intensely. And because, if it is at all possible, I need to find the time to go see this show again before it closes. I want to gather all my friends and family I love and experience this show again.

I want to thank the warm, friendly crew for being so kind to my family and me. They made us feel like we were a part of things. Maybe we were.

The Midvale City Arts Council’s production of The Curious Savage plays at the Midvale Performing Arts Center (695 W. 7720 S., Midvale) on February 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, and 12th at 7:30 PM. The tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children, and $20 for a family pass (one household).  Group rates and ticket sales can be found at www.midvalearts.com. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.