Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Curious Savage
The Adobe Theater
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Stephanie's review Avenue Q


Doris Hargrave, Ed Chavez, Nicholas Ganjei, and Tristana Gonzalez
Photo by Jim Welker
John Patrick lived from 1905 to 1995 and wrote an awful lot of plays and screenplays. He is remembered now mainly for his stage and screen adaptations of The Teahouse of the August Moon. He won a Pulitzer and a Tony for the play, but, like almost everything he wrote for the stage, it likely would be forgotten if not for the Marlon Brando film. Of local interest: After his Broadway career had fizzled out, three of his plays received their world premieres at the Albuquerque Little Theatre in the 1960s.

One of Patrick's plays that is occasionally revived is 1950's The Curious Savage, which is now being performed at The Adobe Theater. It's an innocuous piece of theatre, but charming enough. Most audience members will find it delectable, if not exactly nutritious.

Mr. Savage, a business tycoon, has died and is survived by his widow and three grown children from his first wife. The widow raised her husband's children from when they were young. She has sold all of the business interests that she had control over, and has taken the $10 million (back when that really meant something) and converted it into negotiable bonds.

It's the old "negotiable bonds" device. These are bonds that can be converted back into cash anytime, but if they are lost or destroyed, they cannot be replaced. The kids (Titus, a venal U.S. senator; Lily Belle, a playgirl who has been married six times; and Samuel, a judge who holds the record for having the most decisions overturned) are desperate to get their hands on those bonds, but stepmom has other plans. She has hidden the bonds until she can set up a foundation that will help common people fulfill their dreams. (She herself always wanted to be an actress, so she bankrolled an entire production of Macbeth just so she could play one of the witches, in a non-speaking role. Whether her $10 million will be put to similar good use, we don't really find out.)

Mrs. Savage has taken to always clutching a teddy bear, and this, plus her fiscal impulsiveness, is enough for the kids to get her committed to what used to be called a "rest home." It's one of those private mental institutions for people of means, and she is placed in the ward with patients who are nearing the end of their treatment. The entire play takes place there, in The Cloisters. We meet the other five quirky residents, none of them in the least threatening. The stepchildren are more dangerous than anybody in the institution.

The first act dawdles along, and you will probably guess where the bonds are hidden by intermission. The second half is quicker paced, with a couple of unexpected twists near the end that save the play.

Micah Linford directs with a light and compassionate touch, has assembled a very good cast, and doesn't allow anyone to grandstand. Doris Hargrave does a fine job in the starring role of Mrs. Savage; it's her first appearance in Albuquerque, and I hope not her last. Mrs. Savage is supposed to be a sweet old thing, still sharp but acting a little daffy, and Doris does the role full justice.

The stepkids are played by Nicholas Ganjei, who is good in the underwritten role of Samuel; Tristana Gonzalez, who does a great job playing Lily Belle as a selfish bitch; and Ed Chavez, who is compulsively watchable and entertaining no matter what role he is playing, here as Titus. Excellent support is provided by Eve Grace Gronert, Yannig Morton, Clifton Chadwick, Rachel Thompson, and Meta Williams (as the five other patients) and George Williams and Fabianna Borghese (as the doctor and his assistant).

The set by Bob Byers, costumes by Carolyn Hogan, props by Nina Dorrance, and lighting by Nick Tapia are all top-notch. A shout out to stage managers Orion Pike and Jennifer Torres and to whoever was running the lighting board for the perfectly timed blackouts.

You can see how quickly America changed (socially, theatrically, and therapeutically) by noting that only 13 years went by between The Curious Savage and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It's hardly even the same country. The Curious Savage is a gentle and genteel history lesson, as well as a likable entertainment.

The Curious Savage, by John Patrick, directed by Micah Linford, is being presented at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth Street NW in Albuquerque (a few blocks north of Alameda). Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Through August 7, 2016. Tickets from $14 to $17. Info at www.adobetheater.org.


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