SPRINGVILLE — The Curious Savage by John Patrick has always been one of my favorite scripts, so I was excited to have the chance to review Springville Playhouse’s production of it. I went in with high hopes and I was not disappointed.
The Curious Savage is the story of Ethel P. Savage, a rich and slightly eccentric widow, who has been committed to The Cloisters sanitarium by her three greedy step-children who want control over the family fortune. The Savage children say they are concerned about her because she has taken to carrying a large teddy bear everywhere, and she tried to establish a fund to help people achieve their foolish dreams. The residents and staff at The Cloisters welcome Mrs. Savage with open and enthusiastic arms. Trickery, lies, humor, and insanity ensue, and are mixed with sweet and tender moments.
Untraditional spaces are not uncommon in community theatre programs. Springville Playhouse has been around since 1947 and is the oldest volunteer theatre in Utah. The Springville Playhouse used to have a dedicated performance space, but when the city built new facilities for their offices the theatre became homeless until Merit Academy took them in. The Curious Savage is performed in the cafeteria of the school, which has been set up as a black box style theatre. Although the audience sits on folding chairs, the setting is intimate and quaint. Once the show started I forgot I was in a school cafeteria, and felt like I was in a traditional black box theatre. The set was decorated in rich and warm reds and gold and bathed in warm lights from the grid of professional lights above. The audience was small and the director, Kathy Llewellyn, was roving around personally greeting different audience members and informing them about the history of the Springville Playhouse. The pre-show atmosphere was inviting and friendly, much like the atmosphere found at The Cloisters.
I was delighted with the depth of character reached from the show’s first moments. Every character was fully developed from the moment the lights came up. I was immediately captivated by Fairy May, played by Joni Newman. Fairy May is a storyteller who likes to be in the know. Newman made Fairy May kind, enthusiastic, and fiercely loyal to those who love her. She climbs up on furniture and sprawls across unlikely surfaces. In Newman’s performance Fairy May is an energy source for this show. The danger in playing Fairy May is too play her on high, loud intensity the entire show. This was not the case with Newman’s performance. She played Fairy May as the intense character she is, but she varied her levels of intensity so that I never quite knew how Fairy was going to respond to situations, even though I know the script inside and out. It was wonderful to be able to be surprised by Newman’s interpretation of Fairy.
Mrs. Ethel P. Savage, played by Robinne Booth, is a woman with a plan and she will go to great lengths to achieve her goals. Booth brought class to a character who might be played very eccentric. Mrs. Savage, although dignified at times, has a mischievous streak and a rebellious spirit. Booth was the ideal Mrs. Savage with her classy, mischievous interpretation. Mrs. Paddy, played by Karen Amsden, is a woman of few words. Those few words are lists of things she hates. She is a prickly character who is described by the doctor as “hostile but harmless.” Wearing a flowered night gown and disheveled hair, she often goes charging across the room for the light switches; she’s given up electricity for Lent. Although a mostly silent role, Amsden’s performance was one of my favorites. Her facial expressions and body language made up for her lack of scripted lines. She was stubborn and ferocious and yet she wormed her way into my heart.
The costuming for this show was by Robinne Booth. Although the costumes are mainly time period-based, there will delightful subtleties that clued me into the past of different characters. Jeffery’s clothes were reminiscent of WWII military uniforms. A pin worn by Miss Willy eludes to her days as an Army nurse. Lilly Belle was clothed in fancy dresses and furs appropriately suited for a girl raised in wealth. Mrs. Savage’s clothing was sleek with little sparkly accents that showed her wealth, but did not parade it. My favorite was Fairy May’s tiara of utensils and skirt of ribbons. These subtle hints of characters’ pasts made it feel that the costumes weren’t just costumes, but instead a part of the character’s everyday lives.
With the production being held in a school cafeteria, one might expect that technical abilities to be drastically limited. However, the lighting and sound was very adequately cared for. I did not catch any flaws or glitches in the technical aspect of this production. The sound effects were all appropriately matched to the time period. At first the music played during transitions was a bit distracting for me, but once I became accustomed to it I enjoyed the extra humor it added to the production; such as the song “Don’t Fence Me In” being played as the scene where Mrs. Savage is committed to the sanitarium ends.
I have very little critical feedback for this production, and what I do have should be consider nit picky. I would have liked more variation in the performance of Jason Karp (who played Titus Savage) and Brooklyn Eden (who played Lily Belle). The characters felt a little flat to me. Also, Karp fell into a speaking rhythm that was often distracting from his lines. He has a magnificent speaking voice, and I would have like to have heard more variation in his speaking pattern. Of course, he was playing a politician, so perhaps it was appropriate that it annoyed me slightly.
This play was truly delightful, and is a fun and appropriate night out for any age. It was well worth my hour drive to get to Springville. Some might be skeptical to go to a show that is unfamiliar to them, but this show is worth the risk. The script is beautiful, as is this production. It made me laugh all through the night, and it made me cry at its tender and touching ending. I cannot begin to express how much I enjoyed it. To the cast and crew of The Curious Savage, “Take an umbrella, it’s raining.” This show is a must see.