THE CURIOUS SAVAGEBy John Patrick
Richardson Theatre Centre
Director: Rachel Lindley
Stage Manager: Rachel Weber
Set Designer: Kyle Chinn
Sound Design: Richard Stephens, Sr.
Sound/Light Operator: Rachel Weber
Costumer: Rachael Lindley
Props: Rusty Harding
Ethel P. Savage - Karen Jordan
Fairy May - Deborah Key
Florence Williams - Maxine Frauenheim
Jeffrey - Quinn Angell
Hannibal - Tony Magee
Mrs. Paddy - Kelly Lawrence
Titus - David Kelton
Dr. Emmett - Budd Mahan
Samuel - Jordan Pokladnik
Lily Belle - Elise Whitmire
Miss Wilhelmina - Samantha Potrykus
Reviewed Performance: 8/27/2021
Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Richardson Theatre Center’s production which runs through September 12, has some solid connections and some near misses as well. Karen Jordan as the quirky blue haired matron Ethel P. Savage is the essence of kindness, loyalty, and tolerance in her very soft and realistic portrayal of a woman unconfined by societal expectation. Her “family” of ignoble stepchildren, played by David Kelton, Jordan Pokladnik and Elise Whitmire definitely embrace abrasiveness wholeheartedly though unevenly. Kelton as Titus, the most unliked US senator in the country, varies his explosiveness with moments of faked compassion though that variety is not explored as much as it could have been. Pokladnik as the hapless judge who has had all his decisions reversed, is more reserved in his portrayal but lacking in perhaps the pompousness befitting Samuel. Elise Whitmire, as the snooty daughter Lily Belle, has the trappings of the necessary snobbishness, but not enough reserve to balance her outlandishness. And I have to say this as it has always bothered me about this show: if Mrs. Savage was sixteen when she married her husband (who already had the aforementioned three children), then she can’t be more than, say, twelve to fourteen years their senior. If one does the math, then that ill-gotten brood has to be close to her age. Instead, ages seemed to be all over the place. Just a thought.
The residents of the sanatorium, The Cloisters, vary in their portrayals of the play’s central theme. John Patrick, the author, once wrote that the actors in those roles should be extremely cautious of over exaggerating the characteristics of their illness to the point of humor. He indicated the roles of the “inmates” should never be played for laughs. In turn, he writes lines that are innately humorous when delivered with the proper innocence at the core of those characters. When the actors play them for real, the comedy produces itself. Quin Angell as Jeffrey, the soldier plagued with survivor guilt, brings a softness and sadness to his character even when some of his words and actions do induce laughter. That is also true of Tony Magee as Hannibal, the accountant replaced by a machine in his job. Hannibal believes he can play the violin and in his authenticity as actor in that role, the audience willingly accepts that as plausible. Both Angell and Magee let us see the tender sides of the characters they inhabit for an evening.
Kelly Lawrence as Mrs. Paddy is like a thunderstorm as she moves about the premises creating frequent havoc and listing all of her “hates” but talking to no one. The residents explain to Mrs. Savage, “Her husband told her to shut up. And she did!”
Florence Williams is often described as the Mother of The Cloisters. She tends a doll who she describes as her son, John Thomas. Maxine Frauenheim lacked some of the energy and assertiveness necessary to assume the role but does manage a sensitive insight into a mother who has lost a child.
Deborah Key portrays Fairy May, a young, naive, plain woman who longs to be beautiful and loved. Fairy May’s neediness is evidenced by her many ineffective attempts to capture the attention and mention of her companions. It was difficult to identify those characteristics in Key’s interpretation of the role. Her Fairy Mae was quite over the top in both looks and actions and went counter to the playwright’s admonishment regarding playing the resident’s characters for laughs. Key is quite an accomplished actor, but this role seemed too far out of her comfort zone to play it straight.
Samantha Potrykus is a bright spot as Miss Wilhelmina whose sympathetic care for the Cloisterites seems real and unapologetic. We are given subtle clues as to why, but not until the end are we allowed to see her refusal to give into grief and steadfast belief in clinging to hope. Everything she gives us as her character is warm and believable and delivered with kindness and extreme loyalty.
Bud Mahan steps up to Potrykus’s performance with his own interpretation of Dr. Emmett, the head of the sanatorium. He comes across all the layers of the play as the voice of reason. He protects and defends those in his care and his loyalty and kindness never waver.
I reviewed the opening night performance and the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the production with no grumbles apparent from having to don their masks. We’re all so glad to see the theatres open once again, I think we’d don hazmat suits if it meant the show could go one.
Some might think this show outdated, but it is a show with a heart and that heart is fragile. Take care not to bury it in laughs.
Richardson Theatre Centre
518 W. Arapaho Road, Ste 113
Richardson, Texas 75080
Plays through September 12,2021
Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:30 pm
Ticket prices range from $20-$22 depending on day.
For information go to www.richardsontheatrecentre.net, or call the box office at 972-699-1130