Sunset’s ‘curious savage’ gets lots of love

The cast of Sunset Playhouse’s “The Curious Savage” includes, from left, front, Kristen Carter, Paula Garcia, Casey Westphal, Sandra Baker-Renick, back, Jacqulin Dubinsky, Scott Korman, Diane Kallas, Kerry Birmingham, Jim Mallman, Cory Klein, Becky Cofta and Jim Stahl.

The cast of Sunset Playhouse’s “The Curious Savage” includes, from left, front, Kristen Carter, Paula Garcia, Casey Westphal, Sandra Baker-Renick, back, Jacqulin Dubinsky, Scott Korman, Diane Kallas, Kerry Birmingham, Jim Mallman, Cory Klein, Becky Cofta and Jim Stahl.

 
 

By MARILYN JOZWIK

Published March 7, 2019

The play “The Curious Savage” by John Patrick, being presented by Sunset Playhouse, somewhat reminds me of the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit” and its lessons of love as the beloved toy becomes real to a little boy.

Under the direction of Dustin Martin, this cast has created a most enjoyable comedy with a lot of heart. All the peccadilloes are humorously portrayed but not at the expense of keeping the dignity and humanity of the denizens of The Cloisters sanatorium.

In “The Curious Savage,” five residents are existing happily at The Cloisters in the year 1950. Because of their circumstances, they all have forsaken reality and live in their own world. Florence (Sandra Baker-Renick) thinks a doll is her young son who died in infancy. Hannibal (Scott Korman), a statistician whose work was taken over by technology, fancies himself a marvelous musician, yet he can play only two notes on his violin. Fairy May (Kristen Carter) lives in a fantasy world, believing she is the belle of the ball, when, in fact, she is quite plain. Jeffrey, a concert pianist, believes he was permanently scarred when his plane went down in the war, yet he wasn’t injured.  And Mrs. Paddy (Diane Kallas) is mute except for her ability to shout a stream of all the things she hates, including electricity (she often turns out the lights when she enters a room), when someone approaches. “Her husband told her to shut up, and she did,” we are told. Now, she spends her days painting lovely seascapes. Only they’re not.

Residents at The Cloisters, from left, Mrs. Paddy (Diane Kallas), Florence (Sandra Baker-Renick), Fairy May (Kristen Carter), Hannibal (Scott Korman) and Jeffrey (Kerry Birmingham) don’t want to hear the news that Ethel (Paula Garcia) is reading.

Residents at The Cloisters, from left, Mrs. Paddy (Diane Kallas), Florence (Sandra Baker-Renick), Fairy May (Kristen Carter), Hannibal (Scott Korman) and Jeffrey (Kerry Birmingham) don’t want to hear the news that Ethel (Paula Garcia) is reading.

Their routine is broken by the arrival of a new resident, Ethel Savage, whose three grown stepchildren have admitted her, citing her odd behavior after her husband died (leaving her millions). After years of being a dutiful wife, Ethel has pursued her dreams of being an actress and writing a play that critics called “tenacious mediocrity unhampered by taste.” Her stepchildren, Titus (Jim Stahl), a senator, Samuel (Jim Mallman), a judge, and Lily Belle (Becky Cofta), an ingenue, all want to get their hands on her $10 million inheritance. Ethel, who plans on establishing a fund for people pursuing their dreams, has hidden the fortune after converting it into bonds. She confides all this to the institution’s doctor (Cory Klein) and nurse (Jacqulin Dubinsky).

Ethel soon becomes a favorite of the residents, telling them about her life and dreams as well as her unscrupulous stepchildren, and she hatches plans to humiliate the greedy bunch. Act II action speeds along as the stepchildren badger Ethel for the money and the animated threesome get their comeuppance.

Hannibal (Scott Korman) thinks he is a marvelous musician even though he can only play two notes.

Hannibal (Scott Korman) thinks he is a marvelous musician even though he can only play two notes.

Garcia is at the heart of this show with a delightful portrayal of the eccentric Ethel, displaying charm, wisdom and kindness that endears her to the sanatorium’s residents. Ethel is perfectly content with herself at this stage of her life, but still is feisty with more than a hint of mischief.

Loved the scenes when Ethel puts a picture of her stepdaughter on a dart board and tosses a bunch at the photo (although I’m not sure if keeping darts around this bunch is a good idea), and marches around on the edge of the carpet (so that its perimeter gets worn, too) with the others following behind. These scenes are not overdone, which allows them to fit in organically.

Klein has an effective air of authority as Dr. Emmet, similar to the no-nonsense role he played as the inspector in Sunset’s previous show, “A Murder is Announced,” while Dubinsky as his nurse complements nicely.

As the stepchildren, Stahl, Mallman and Cofta do well. Stahl as the senator especially exudes a pronounced sense of self-righteousness and indignation with his mother’s behavior.

Ethel (Paula Garcia) feigns indifference during a tongue-lashing from her stepchildren, from left, Titus (Jim Stahl), Lily Belle (Becky Cofta) and Samuel (Jim Mallmann).

Ethel (Paula Garcia) feigns indifference during a tongue-lashing from her stepchildren, from left, Titus (Jim Stahl), Lily Belle (Becky Cofta) and Samuel (Jim Mallmann).

The five sanatorium residents also gel, all actors creating well-defined characters who had a gentleness about them. Carter’s Fairy May has the most demonstrative character, which she overplays effectively, while Kallas’ Mrs. Paddy nails her character with just the right look and actions. Her finale with Garcia’s Ethel is so touching because it has been set up so well by both.

Martin keeps this show moving at a quick pace with lots of movement and good comic timing. Fine performances and a handsome Matthew Carr set all combine for a most enjoyable evening or afternoon at the theater.

Be sure to soak in the final scene, as it represents the realization of Ethel’s dream with wonderful staging nicely lit by lighting designer Katrina Smith.

If you go

Who: Sunset Playhouse

What: “The Curious Savage”

When: Through March 17

Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove

Tickets/Info: 262-782-4430; www.sunsetplayhouse.com