The New Paltz High School Drama Club is set to tackle The Curious Savage, a comedy written by John Patrick, this coming weekend. According to veteran Drama Club director Nancy Owen, she knew that her theater enthusiasts were eager for a comedy to perform this fall. “The difficulty with comedies is that they often have a very small cast,” she said. “I was reading dozens of scripts but decided to call my brother, who is an artistic director for a theater company, to ask his thoughts.”
He recommended The Curious Savage, which Owen read and “fell in love with!” Although the cast is larger than most theatrical comedies, it still has only five male parts and six female roles to cast. “The great thing is that our entire club is participating, even though there are only 11 roles,” she said. “We have 20 people working tech and others are doing costumes, make-up, ushering, everything. They’re excited about the play and are fully invested.”
The Curious Savage is set in the late 1940s and revolves around a young widow, Mrs. Savage, who married young to an older man who already had three children. She was left with $10 million by her husband, but despite her best efforts to use that money for philanthropic causes, her three “savage” stepchildren are ready to behead each other and their stepmother to get to the money. Because the kids can’t get hold of the money, which Mrs. Savage has invested into bonds, they come together to commit her to a “sanatorium” — or in the vernacular of the time, the “cloisters” — to bring her to her senses. Once inside the cloisters and exposed to the extraordinary and eccentric patients, doctors and nurses, Mrs. Savage is even more convinced that the money left to her should be put in a fund to help others realize their hopes and dreams.
The play focuses on the many characters inside the sanatorium, including the patients, doctor, nurses and Savage herself. “These are sweet, fragile people who ooze compassion for one another,” said Owen. “They have their eccentricities and differences, which we all have. But remember, this was written in the late 1940s. Things were so different then and anyone who was perceived to have a ‘difference’ was cloistered away.”
She said that it was a great learning opportunity for her Drama Club students to understand the line of embracing the eccentricities of their characters without making fun of them. “What’s amazing is what compassion and love each of my students have for their character. When I was growing up, they put anyone who had a learning disability or a special need away. Difference was, I guess, frightening then. But now, we’re all blended in and we understand that each and every one of us has differences and eccentricities.” Inside the sanatorium are the most lovable, precious human beings, with whom Mrs. Savage and the audience fall in love.
Some of the starring roles include Jenny Rich playing Mrs. Savage; Megan Grant as Ms. Willie, the nurse who works with the patients and serves as the conduit between them and the outside world; and Liz Corey as Florence, one of the patients. Ari Raskin plays Fairy, another patient, who Owen said is “so hysterically funny!” Adam Joiner plays the character Hannibal, a patient in the sanatorium who believes that he is a violin virtuoso, but in reality can only play two notes on the violin — which he does with extreme gusto.
Matt Eriole plays a patient who is a World War II survivor. “His plane went down and he was the only one to hit the eject button, so all of his comrades died and he survived,” explained Owen. “He’s left with intense psychological scars, but in his mind they’re physical scars and he’s obsessed with cuts on his face that aren’t really there. An amazing individual.”
The dominant mood is high comedy, with the audience appreciating the neglected virtues of kindness and affection, while dismissing the more modern trend of a world motivated solely by greed and dishonesty.
The play will take place on Nov. 14, 15 and 16, 7:30 p.m., at the New Paltz High School auditorium. On Thursday night all tickets will be at a bargain price for $7 a person, with a special presentation of the Arts Community Glee Club during intermission, as well as the announcement of the high school’s planned spring musical. The rest of the shows will cost $8 for seniors and students and $10 general admission. Don’t miss it!