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'Curious Savage' takes an amusing venture into insanity

'Curious Savage' takes an amusing venture into insanity
From left, Becca Korn, Julie Rogers, Jean Hopkins, Reed Sigmon and Patrick O’Connell in “Curious Savage” at Laurel Mill Playhouse. (John Cholod/Laurel Mill Playhouse)

Last weekend's sweet and sassy opening of American playwright John Patrick's "The Curious Savage" at Laurel Mill Playhouse, in which self-serving politicians and celebrities are the bad guys, may be as relevant today as it was when the comedy opened on Broadway almost 70 years ago.

Directed by Nick Cherone and produced by Maureen Rogers with stage-management by Collin Brown and Ryan Vossler, the play tells the story of the newest resident at the Cloisters, a sanitarium where subplots revolve around five other spunky and adorable characters.

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Expertly portrayed by Jean Berard, Ethel — an eccentric widow with vibrant blue hair who recently inherited her dead husband's fortune — has taken up acting and set up a memorial fund to help ordinary people pursue their dreams as well.

Her stepchildren — Titus, a senator played by Cherone; Samuel, a judge played by Jonathon King (Ryan Vossler on closing weekend); and Lily Belle, a celebrity heiress played by Nell Quinn-Gibney (Biloy Ambahe on June 18, 23 and 24) — have committed Ethel to the Cloisters in an attempt to get their hands on their deceased father's fortune.

Brown and Cherone designed the set, a shabby living room that conveys the stepchildren's disregard for Ethel in bringing her there. The set accommodates Cherone's blocking fairly well, and Linda Ridge assembled the costumes.

As lights and sound (designed by Cherone, operated by Chris Ridenour) rise at the beginning of Act 1, the cast steps up to deliver a gentle comedy that tugs mercilessly at heartstrings and culminates in a bittersweet, hopeful ending.

The other residents of Cloisters — Florence, played by Julie Rogers; Hannibal, played by Patrick O'Connell; Fairy May, played by Rebecca Korn; Jeffrey, played by Reed Sigmon; and Mrs. Paddy, played by Terri Laurino — have created an alternative reality at the sanitarium, a safe space where they look after one another.

The human frailty that drives each of their delusions, in contrast to the avarice of Ethel's stepfamily, begins to make their delusions appear normal as the plot thickens, and as the playwright intended, raises questions about the true definition of insanity.

As Florence, Julie Rogers waxes sweet and funny as the fashionable young mother who believes her 5-year-old son, John Thomas, has the measles.

Korn as Fairy May — a plain, compulsive liar who thinks she's beautiful and demands declarations of love from everyone — is a childlike, unkempt riot.

As a war veteran pilot who hides an invisible scar on his face, Sigmon delivers a believable and heart-wrenching Jeffrey. Watch carefully for the chemistry he creates with Miss Willie.

O'Connell as Hannibal, an unemployed statistician who's lost his job to a calculator, juggles kindness and sarcasm on a dime; his awful violin noises never fail to tickle.

Laurino's performance as Mrs. Paddy is stellar. Silent except when shouting rants listing the many things she hates, Mrs. Paddy has given up electricity for Lent and runs around creating mayhem by turning out the lights when she's not painting seascapes.

As the stepfamily, Cherone, King and Quinn-Gibney deliver good performances as well.

When the siblings discover their stepmother has converted her millions into irreplaceable bonds and hidden them, they begin unveiling character flaws.

Cherone as Titus loses all dignity as Ethel refuses to give up her hiding place. Kings as Samuel steps out of his siblings' shadow and the snooty Lily Belle (Quinn-Gibney) becomes deliciously vindictive.

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Rounding out the excited cast, Erica Ridge is gentle but so sad as Miss Willie; and Jim Berard, the soft-spoken and selfless Dr. Emmett, is everything one would hope a compassionate mental health care provider would be.

Patrick's rich script is well played across the board, but Jean Berard as Ethel delivered a standout performance at the Playhouse on opening night.

As a kind, elderly dreamer with a spine who understands the value of a single grain of salt, Berard leads the show with courage and sensitivity.

Despite some line lapses and, more disturbingly, a couple of breaks in character (when actors laughed at each other) on opening night, "The Curious Savage" at Laurel Mill Playhouse promises delightful, thought-provoking entertainment as the run continues.

And the lovely composition at the end should send everyone home smiling.

"The Curious Savage" continues weekends through June 25, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays, June 18 and 25 at 2 p.m., at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St. Tickets are $20. Students ages 16-18, active duty military and seniors 65 and over pay $15. Buy tickets online at laurelmillplayhouse.org.



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