Set for success

The Curious Savage

Hannibal (Rory Hogen) and Fairy Mae (Kathy Welch) look at life with a skewed view from the sanitarium.

Hannibal (Rory Hogen) and Fairy Mae (Kathy Welch) look at life with a skewed view from the sanitarium.

Photo By David Robert

Rated 5.0

Call me old-fashioned, but I think you can tell a lot about a play from the set. Sure, there are great shows out there with sparse or non-existent sets, but to me, a lovingly crafted set means producers have considered every important detail. I prefer restaurants with great ambience, too. That’s why, before the house lights even dimmed on the set of Proscenium Players, Inc.'s production of The Curious Savage at the Brewery Arts Center, I knew I would love it.

The production, directed by longtime-BAC friend David Josten, takes place in 1954 in a sanitarium called The Cloisters. As Scene 1 opens on patients passing an average day in an asylum, it’s obvious we’ll like these characters the most.

The patients are an eclectic bunch. Fairy Mae (Kathy Welch) is a plain-looking woman who suffers from delusions of grandeur. Then there’s Florence (Jamie Brazil), the nurturing “mother” of the bunch, who seems not to belong in a sanitarium until we learn that she thinks a doll is her son. Jeffrey (Richard Sorenson) is a young man just returned from war, convinced that he’s disfigured, while his only real scars are emotional. Hannibal (Rory Hogen) is an older, tone-deaf gentleman who believes he can play the violin. And then, there’s Mrs. Paddy (Eloise Koenig), the grumpy old woman with wild hair who “hates everything"—especially electricity. The Cloisters’ staff includes Dr. Emmett (Patrick Hardy) and his loyal nurse Miss Willie (Jeri Pope), who we later learn has a special connection to a patient.

As the play begins, everyone at The Cloisters eagerly awaits the arrival of a new patient, Ethel Savage (Jonni Moon). Ethel is the eccentric, teddy-bear carrying widow of a wealthy man whose selfish children can’t stand her. And because she now possesses their father’s $10 million inheritance, they’ve had her committed to force the money’s whereabouts out of her. Ethel’s stepchildren are Titus (Geoff Moore), the most hated senator in Washington; Samuel (Larry Brilliant), the judge whose decisions are nearly always reversed; and Lily Belle (Beth Petersen), the selfish beauty queen who Ethel thinks is sluttish. As the story unfolds, we learn that Ethel’s $10 million plan made her much smarter than anyone realized. We also learn that those “crazies” in the asylum are more in tune with human nature than anyone gave them credit for.

The show is hilarious, due to the combined efforts of the cast. But Kathy Welch’s interpretation of Fairy Mae is simply outstanding; her brilliant performance is the glue holding the show together. Jonni Moon’s deadpan portrayal of Ethel is funny and charming. Patrick Hardy’s minor role demonstrates natural stage talent, and Eloise Koenig’s Mrs. Paddy is about the funniest role I have seen in local theater.

I attended The Curious Savage with a friend who had played Titus in his high school’s production of the show; his insight was interesting. He said that the original script offered very little in the way of direction, and he remembered it being tough to make much of his lines. To me, this says a lot about the director’s talents. Josten and his cast did an exceptional job of making these characters truly special and helping the audience to feel emotionally connected to them. I laughed a lot and was truly moved. So my hunch about the set was right after all.