by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Hats off to actress Laura E. Rosas who stepped in on Friday, March 17th, to play, in less than 24 hours, the lead role in The Curious Savage, currently showing until March 30th at The Mirror Theater in North Hollywood.  Ms. Rosas’ effort was a valiant attempt to recover a production nearly thwarted because of an accidental injury by Lynne Delaney, that I was told, took Delaney out of the run completely.   Ms. Rosas’ grace kept the show open and the audience reasonably happy.

Alas, however, an effort does not a professional presentation make.

The Curious Savage is a bit of a language play.  It is fast.  It is witty.  The quips, jibes, taunts, in the overarching humor cannot be sluggish or we lose the intention and simply the “ha ha” of the broad comedy.

Where it is the actor’s job to do the best they can, it is the responsibility for a driving lead to hold an ensemble together, keeping them propped up and revolving dynamically, especially in a fast moving play.

And so, at some point it becomes a choice in a situation as this, as to where the emphasis should be placed, on heavy character work, dialect etc., or to just say the lines.  Had just saying the lines happened, the play would have been much more successful and so much easier for the rest of the cast who were doing their best to light dynamite the entire evening.

And one can only hope that an award winning director such as Savages’ Julie Raelyn, who has a decent background in comedy, vaudeville style performance, and directing can be reliable enough to pull a balanced presentation together, even under duress.

If you’ve seen it done well, an actor having to understudy, or step into a role last minute, script in hand, and perform brilliantly, then you know it is totally possible.  And that is where professionalism comes in.

Ms. Rosas had the bulky task of working through material she had no time to memorize while dealing with an already mounted show.  But she was none-the-less availed of a great script that was funny and entertaining without a whole lot of work.  She also had the assistance of a well rehearsed cast who could help her along in the most difficult moments, which they did.  And she has stage experience.  In addition, she already is possessed of the stature and voice quality that endows the role with a certain believability.

Given the shared advantages of the production, that should have been enough.  And although, The Curious Savage had its tremendous, exhilarating moments, it chugged, often ungracefully; unfortunate because its has a wealth of potential.

The Curious Savage poster

The Curious Savage, written by John Patrick, is a comedic play about Ethel P. Savage, recently widowed, whose husband has left her ten million dollars.  Mrs. Savage’s intent is to set up a charity whereby people can be funded for the absurd things they have never been allowed to do.  A Happiness Fund so to speak.

Her horrible stepchildren, however, have other ideas about the money and they attempt to institutionalize Mrs. Savage in order to arrest the family fortune from her.

Primarily a comedy, the play sets up, a contrast between the kindness and loyalty of the psychiatric patients and the avarice and vanity of the respectable public figures i.e. Mrs. Savage’s stepchildren. By the end of the play, the viewer wonders who the crazy ones really are.  In its essence it is a lampoon about celebrity culture.

Playwright John Patrick stated in his foreword to his play (which was first produced in 1950) : “It is important in The Curious Savage that the gentle inmates of The Cloisters be played with warmth and dignity. Their home is not an asylum nor are these good people lunatics. Any exaggeration of the roles will rob them of charm and humor. The whole point of the play is to contrast them with Mrs. Savage’s children and the insane outside world. To depart from this point of view for the sake of easy laughs will rob the play of its meaning.”

In hindsight, and given the situation, the respective players could only do what they could do.  And they did in fact, mostly accomplish this goal.  But taking into account the direction of the playwright himself, and all present elements: the cast, the director and the text, the show did a bit of a disservice to itself.  The audience was set up to rely solely on Ms. Rosas’ character ingenuity which filled a void but then created a vacuum that the rest of the players were sometimes forced to overcompensate for by heavily playing on the theatrics for a night of lamentable mediocrity.

Hopefully they have worked out the kinks since then and are set for grand exhibition on their final weekend.

Running time: 150 minutes.
There will be an intermission.