Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre
Director – Allen Walker
Set and Lighting Designer – Bryan S. Douglas
Costume Designer – Ryan Matthieu Smith
Sound Designer – Allen Walker
Properties Designer – Nancy Waak
Hazel Murphy – Ethel P. Savage
Pat Dohoney – Senator Titus Savage
Laura Jones – Lily Belle Savage
Walter Betts – Judge Samuel Savage
Karen Matheny – Florence
Ashley Bownds – Fairy May
Eric Dobbins – Jeffrey
Brad Stephens – Hannibal
Kimberly Mickle – Mrs. Paddy
Delmar H. Dolbier – Dr. Emmett
Libby Hawkins Roming – Miss Wilhelmina
Reviewed Performance 5/9/2014
Reviewed by Angela Newby, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The best gift one can give themself is to be a little foolish. The Curious Savage tells the story of Ethel Savage and her stepchildren and how they all become a little foolish over money. After her husband died, leaving ten million dollars to Ethel, she decides to set up a memorial fund under his name to give to people to help them make their foolish wishes come true. Her step-children however believe that she has gone crazy and have placed her in a sanitarium to help take control of the money. The play debuted on October 24, 1950 in New York by the Theater Guild and Lewis & Young at the Martin Beck Theatre with Lillian Gish in the role of Ethel. The prestigious Savage family is merged with the residents at The Cloisters, a sanatorium, and the contrast between kindness and loyalty with the vane and public figures of the Savage family lead to a laugh out loud comedy.
Allen Walker did a superb job selecting and directing each member of the cast. They work well together as though they have been working together for years. Walker’s blocking clearly showed the different dynamics between the family and the residents. The actors brought the story to life under his direction.
The set, designed by Bryan S. Douglass, worked well within the context of the play, of the sanatorium’s main room with separate areas the residents used, the piano, the library, the sitting area, and the game table. Each of the sections allowed the play to not only move forward, but generated the feel of family for the residence.
Nancy Waak added realism to the set with her chosen properties. While they were simple, it added to the true feeling of a sanatorium, a home away from home for the residents. From the yellow pillows to the Post magazines, each one set the context of the play and helped define the setting.
Lighting, also designed by Bryan S. Douglass, blended well within the scenes. The backlit window helped the audience know what time of day it was. The clever use of spotlights at the end emphasized each resident in how they saw themselves and helped highlight their true character.
Allen Walker, with the sound design, knew exactly how to mesh the feel from the 1950’s to present day so the audience could envision themselves within the characters of the play. There was an issue with a phone ringing after it was already answered, but it didn’t distract from the play. The buzzer for the patients represented the reality of the sanatorium but also how one learns to follow the rules given us. Yet it was the instrumental music that had the most impact and brought the audience deftly into the next scene.
Ryan Matthieu Smith made excellent choices with the costumes for the show. While the styles were of the late 1940’s to early 1950’s, they were classic pieces that spanned across the decades. Fairy May’s outfit was by far my favorite as it complimented her high energy personality. Each character was carefully thought out to find their costume. Lilly Belle’s high society costume reeked of money and showed her true vanity. Well done!
Hazel Murphy played Ethel P. Savage and nailed the role of the foolish older woman. With her fidgeting, pulling at clothes, and over enunciation the audience could see the fight between pretending to be crazy and choosing a different reality than what her stepchildren wanted. Throughout the play, Murphy’s smirks, laughter, and the tilt of her head showed how sane Ethel really was underneath the acting part. Murphy did a superb job of using tone and volume changes to show the dynamic differences between her family and the residents. There were multiple lines missed within Act II and you could tell that Murphy was working hard to get back into character. While these did distract from the scenes, she made an outstanding show in Act Three as Ethel was leaving her friends at the sanatorium and how much they truly meant to her by the tears pooling at the corner of her eyes.
Senator Titus Savage was played by Pat Dohoney and it was easy to see his political leanings as he spoke out of the side of his mouth and would easily move between being a politician and an upset son. You could sense Titus’ frustration with his mother Ethel through Dohoney’s forced smiles and terse grins. Through rushed lines, Dohoney showed the fast paced life of the Senator. It is in these moments that Dohoney would use his wringing of his hands and a quick split between yelling and whispering to show that he didn’t know how to deal with the loss of control.
Walter Betts played the part of Judge Samuel Savage and it was hard to distinguish the role of his character. Betts’ timid demeanor in the way he walked around the room to avoid his family, the holding onto furniture for strength, and visibly shrinking into himself, showed the judge’s lack of confidence. Betts didn’t stray from character once and it was easy to place him as the scared child in an unknown world.
Laura Jones dominated the family scenes as Lilly Belle Savage. It was easy to see Lilly flaunt her high society life by how Jones grasped her boa and held on closely to her ornate costumes. Her wide eyes and pursed lips fit perfectly with Lilly looking down her nose at the other characters. Her voice was high shrilled as she learned that they were now broke only exemplified her petty personality. Jones made it easy to believe Lilly was a spoiled brat that only cared about money.
It was the residents and the staff at The Cloisters, though, that made the audience feel like part of the family.
Karen Matheny, Florence, showed true motherly instinct by the way that she treated her son, a doll, by stroking his face and hair and always showing that mother side to the other residents. It is easy to see the other residents turn to Matheny for the side hug, and reassuring smile as they tell Ethel about her new home. Through controlled voice and a smooth, reassuring tone, it was easy to place Matheny as the mother of the group.
Fairy May, played by Ashely Bownds, stole the show. Bownds was high energy, and there were times she would come back onstage yelling her lines that I jumped a time or two. She had the audience laughing and truly feeling that energy. Since Fairy May doesn’t know the meaning of personal space, it is with Ethel, as she leans over her shoulder, cheek to cheek, that you see the laughter through her bright eyes and you know she will be a friend for life. Bownds plays Fairy May over-the -top, but her wide grins and dominance on the stage shows that she is a strong actress, yet plays it down with her doe-eyed looks.
Eric Dobbins played Jeffrey, and with a “disfigured” face, his hand never wavering from covering his scars, he stayed in character the whole play. It is only through Ethel’s knowledge that we must overcome our past that we see his healing process begin. It was easy to see Jeffrey’s confidence evolution after this scene. Dobbins gave him more confident, a more balanced stance, and a smile that came from his eyes. He continued throughout the play to have downshifted eyes that made one truly question his sanity. With this Dobbins also stood at attention giving to the fact that he was a soldier in the war. Each of these allowed for Dobbins to truly grasp who Jeffrey was.
Brad Stephens, as Hannibal, truly understood his character of a former statistician now turned crazy. He was visibly shaking to show Hannibal’s fear of the unknown world and was constantly using his fingers to tick off math facts, his face blank as the truly insane genius. Stephens did a superb job teaching the audience that one can believe in themselves through the changes of life.
Mrs. Paddy, played by Kimberly Mickle, rounds out the residents at the sanatorium, a woman who hasn’t talked in twenty years other than to state what she hates. It was within Mickle’s monologues that you saw the true emptiness of Paddy’s life. Stone faced, with blank stares and nothing other than her projected voice, she showed the resident’s pain. While Mrs. Paddy doesn’t talk, Mickle’s stomping, constantly watchful eyes, and small smiles reflected there was more behind her character.
The cast is rounded out by the sanitarium staff that shows grace and dignity to the residents of the sanatorium.
Delmar H. Dolbier plays Dr. Emmet and nailed the distinguished, older doctor. From his deliberate word choice, pauses and stares, it was easy to see Emmet’s brain working before talking to the family or the residents. With his half grins and chuckles Dolbier played the character as easy to trust, and his methodical paces and a powerful voice demanded respect.
Libby Hawkins Roming played Miss Welhelmina. It was easy to understand this member of the staff, with her professional stance, attention to detail, and soft tones that indicated the residents meant more to her than the rest. Roming’s body language portrayed a 1950’s woman, with knees together and legs crossed at the ankles. Welhelmina’s sweet demeanor shone from her eyes and her constant avocation for the residents played through in her constant light touches on their shoulders to the residents.
Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre ended their first season with an outstanding production of The Curious Savage, and it’s one that will not be disappoint.
THE CURIOUS SAVAGE
Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre
at Fort Worth Community Arts Center
1300 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Runs through May 25th
Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday-Sunday at 2:00 pm
Evening ticket prices are $15.00, $12.00 for seniors (60+)/students or military (with ID); and $10.00 for children (12 or younger). Matinee ticket prices are $12.00, $10.00 and $8.00. Any unsold seats will be sold one hour before curtain, if available. Group rates are available for parties of ten or more.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.thetart.org, call the box office at 682-231-0082 or Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006.