From left: Susan Suomi, Dana Blanchard, Nathaly Morales, Nellie Brannan and Dan Wilkerson in Melbourne Civic Theatre’s “The Curious Savage.” Photo by Max Thornton
By PAM HARBAUGH
There has got to be something pretty doggoned dear about a show if it elicits an audible “awwww” from audience members. But that’s what happens in Melbourne Civic Theatre’s sweet and funny production of “The Curious Savage.”Written by John Patrick, “The Curious Savage” is an oxymoron of sorts. Its title refers to Ethel Savage, an eccentric widow who was left a fortune by her late husband. But this Savage is the epitome of civilized. Indeed, it is her three stepchildren who reveal their beastly behavior as they tuck dear step-mama into a mental health facility called The Cloisters. They’ve already gone through their inheritances and now want to get their greedy hands on the remaining fortune.
While the facility’s residents are a bit kooky, they exude more human tenderness and compassion than Ethel’s so-called normal family. It all leads to the unexpected fact that life within The Cloisters is much more to be desired than that out in the “real world.”
Director Peg Girard does masterful work here infusing both humor and tenderness into the production. Her actors, all so very well cast, bring out such affection for their characters that you can’t help but feel close to each one.Nathaly Morales is especially winning as Fairy, the young lady who dresses in tutus and prances on her tip toes. Dana Blanchard pours on the syrup as number crunching savant Hannibal, the wannabe virtuoso violinist. Nellie Brannan has a good turn as Florence, who obsesses over the game of parcheesi to avoid her own sad truth. Dan Wilkerson brings out the soft spoken kindness in Jeffrey, a concert pianist who became a WWII fighter pilot. And Donna Furfaro may assume here a low-profile presence on stage, but when she takes the spotlight she steals the show as angry Mrs. Paddy.
Susan Suomi paints her portrayal of Ethel Savage as a woman filled with grace and dignity while at the same time enjoying the freedom to be her own self. Her scenes with Tynan Pruett, who is a lovely Miss Willie, the nurse, are deep and tender. Michael Fiore makes a real, caring person out of Dr. Emmett, the director of The Cloisters.
And finally the bad guys: What fun they are. Steven Costner and David Baum seethe greed in their roles of Titus and Samuel. But they also serve as rational contrast to their sister, the avaricious and spoiled Lily Bell, played here with comic perfection by Mary Carson Wouters, last seen on MCT stages in the dramatic role of Madge in “Picnic.”
Scenic and lighting designer Alan Selby once again creates solid, believable and beautiful scenery and lighting. Fran Mayer-Grest’s period costume design is right on target. And sound designer Wendy Reader (also the stage manager) ties it all up in a splendid bow by bookending each of the three acts with fitting music.
This is delightful theater, with three very fast acts — you won’t look at your watch even once. The characters are lovable and fun. The story keeps your interest from start to finish. You’ll have plenty of laughs. And when it’s time to go “awwww…” well, that’s pretty hard to resist.
To view a video preview of MCT’s “The Curious Savage,” click here.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “The Curious Savage” runs through Nov. 8 at Melbourne Civic Theatre, 817 E. Strawbridge Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $25 general, and $23 for seniors (62 and older), military and students. Credit card purchases subject to a $3 handling fee. Call 321-723-6935 or visit www.MyMCT.org.