The Curious Savage

By John Patrick (Act Inc.)

Because John Patrick's 1951 play The Curious Savage takes place in an asylum, you really can't call it a drawing-room comedy -- "dayroom comedy" would be more accurate. Whatever the description, this gentle and genteel farce, typical of its period, is receiving a loving production by Act Inc. in the handsome theater of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

Patrick was a moderately successful journeyman playwright of the 1940s and '50s, best known for his 1953 Teahouse of the August Moon, which ran for more than 1,000 performances and starred John Forsythe, David Wayne and Paul Ford. The playwright had an earlier Broadway hit, The Hasty Heart, in 1945, and both it and Teahouse were staples of summer and community theater for many years.

The Curious Savage concerns the havoc wrought by cruel, greedy and stupid stepchildren when they engineer the unjust and unsuitable commitment of their stepmother, who is crazy only like the fox, to a rather nice private asylum with understanding staff and lovable inmates. "Virtue," observed the Mikado, "is triumphant only in theatrical performances," and in The Curious Savage it does indeed triumph, to the modified amusement of audience and actors alike. The play's resemblance to TV sitcoms is obvious, except that its action is not contained to a half-hour, but the production scarcely ever drags, and when it does, it's the play's fault, not the production's.

Dorothy Farmer Davis as Ethel Savage, the put-upon but finally victorious noncrazy lady, a part that Davis was born to play at this time in her acting career, heads the cast, dispensing amusing one-liners and wise remarks with superb timing. Steve Callahan plays her contemptible, bought-his-seat senator stepson with rascally relish, and Liz Hopefl, as her promiscuous, unabashedly greedy stepdaughter, is hilariously nasty as well.

The inmates of the asylum are portrayed by a particularly interesting group of actors, many of them relatively new to the Act Inc./West End Players Guild/Kirkwood circuit. Most amusing and, overall, rather touching is Kris Ramsey as Hannibal, a former government accountant, one of whose delusions is that he plays a fine fiddle by just dragging a bow across open strings. Ramsey makes Hannibal a courtly, even-tempered, beaming fellow, incapable of unkindness. Elena Sloop's Fairy May presents a consistent theatrical occurrence -- an attractive young woman playing someone who is supposedly plain. Fairy May is gauche and hyperactive (an awful combination), so Sloop -- who, though attractive, is not petite -- bounces all over the stage most alarmingly. Susan Farkas as Mrs. Paddy, who speaks only to give consonantal lists of what she hates, turns from loud grumping to quiet lovingness in a remarkably credible transformation.

Rob Grumich's direction keeps things moving briskly, and does a good job, too -- The Curious Savage would be unbearable if it dragged. His actors achieve clean, well-defined characterizations, and he makes the peaks and valleys of the narrative line interesting and moderately surprising. Tim Grumich's set is airy and comfortable; Brent Harris' lighting is consistent; and Russell J. Bettlach's costumes, though not period, certainly help establish the gentility of the characters and, for that matter, the play itself.

The Curious Savage continues through July 30.

 
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