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Edison High’s ‘Curious Savage’ redefines family and wealth

Tess Higgins, a student at Langley High School, reviews “The Curious Savage” performed by Thomas Edison High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

Insanity is a “deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder.” While this may be Merriam-Webster’s definition, Thomas Edison High School’s production of “The Curious Savage” gave a whole new meaning to the word. In fact, the students thespians made the audience question what characters are really crazy.

Written by John Patrick and first produced in 1950, “The Curious Savage” is a tale of greed, acceptance and compassion. Ethel Savage, an elderly but decisive woman, is placed in The Cloisters mental facility by her three conniving children. After her husband’s death, Ethel received a considerable inheritance—$10 million. Unfortunately for her avaricious children, the money is hidden in a secret location. As Ethel adjusts to life in the hospital and begins to bond and form friendships with other patients, her children become increasingly mad over the possible location of the inheritance.

The cast effectively juxtaposed the patients of The Cloisters with the Savage children. Through palpable chemistry and affection for one another, the patients functioned almost like a family, while the Savages were stoic, distant and self-absorbed. As Mrs. Savage, Emily Wolfteich provided a happy medium between the two groups. Wolfteich displayed Mrs. Savage’s affectionate side when acting as a grandmother figure with the patients, but she quickly and effortlessly transformed into a bitter, sarcastic woman confronting her greedy, ruthless children.

The Cloisters patients were colorful and vivacious. Sophia Sperling shone as the easily distracted and imaginative Fairy May. Her lanky wobble and distinctive facial expressions enraptured the audience. Another standout was Paul Budge as Hannibal. Budge never failed to entertain with his uptight, yet enthusiastic behavior. The patients were always in character, enticing the audience with their quirks and loveable nature.

Visible frustration oozed from the three Savage children. Kristina Ness exhibited Lily Belle’s sense of entitlement and snooty attitude through her clear facial expressions—scoffing at the very thought of being poor. Also, Nicolas Kwatnoski as Titus successfully developed his character’s rage throughout the show with steadfast determination.

The set did not look like a mental hospital. Lively yellow walls, houseplants and paintings made it look more like a welcoming home, but that was kind of the point. Costumes were also well done, with multiple outfits for each character that clearly suited them. A mismatched print dress held up by pins, for example, hung symbolically on the free-spirited Fairy May.

Greed—one of the seven deadly sins—can certainly bring out the worst in people. The Savage children practically had dollar signs in their eyes, relishing any opportunity to become wealthy. Through this charming comedy, Thomas Edison High School proved that a sense of belonging and family matters more than all the money in the world.

By Tess Higgins, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  April 28, 2010; 8:47 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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