116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Sometimes a break is what we need to put things in perspective.
Giving Tree Theater put “The Curious Savage” rehearsals on hold for “a couple of weeks” in March 2020. Eighteen months later, cast and crew reunited to finish what they started, opening last Friday and continuing this weekend, Friday through Sunday.
And after the pandemic pause, the script’s themes of isolation and mental distress ring even louder, providing an even more serious undertone to the comedic elements.
Dyanna Dawn Davidson as “the curious” Ethel P. Savage is the glue that holds everyone together when they become unglued. She captures everyone’s attention, from her initial glacier-melting glare to the maternal warmth in which she swaddles her family of choice.
“Curious” has several meanings, from “eager to learn something” to “strange” or “unusual.” Ethel, who fancies herself an actress, is perhaps the least curious of the dozen characters audiences will meet.
Where: Giving Tree Theater, 752 10th St., Marion
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 12 to 14, 2021)
Tickets: $23, givingtreetheater.com
Her husband has died, leaving her $10 million that her adult stepchildren are most eager to acquire. Distraught that Ethel intends to set up a memorial fund to help other people achieve the dreams she did not, the wannabe heirs commit her to a sanitarium in hopes she’ll come to her senses and tell them where she’s stashed the cash.
The play premiered in New York in 1950, and at a time when sanitariums are usually depicted as sterile environments devoid of warmth. However, The Cloisters, where Ethel is sent, is set up like a conventional house, with a communal living and dining room, anchored by a baby grand piano in one corner, and a hallway to the private bedrooms in the opposite corner.
Ethel and the residents are definitely in opposite corners when she arrives, clutching a white teddy bear for comfort, as her stepchildren connive over how they’re gonna make her cough up the dough. She “complies,” sending each on a wild-goose chase.
Everyone at The Cloisters is dealing — or not dealing — with deep-seated wounds. Some unfold as the play unfolds, others are left to the imagination. Regardless, we root for them all to find peace and comfort with each other.
The leader of the pack is Fairy May (Robin Crow). We never really find out why she takes off on flights of fancy. But no matter — her giddy ride is so much fun. Crow brings wide-eye, childlike wonder to Fairy May, with wild ponytails sticking up all over her head and petticoats that give her a Shirley Temple touch.
Then men of the house are quiet and withdrawn, and their scars are heartbreaking. Scott Davidson as Hannibal and Seth Friedman as Jeffrey bring a sad calm to the clan.
The other two residents also have heartbreaking back stories. Andrea Henley gives Florence a serene manner that belies her pain. Tracy Slaughter paints Mrs. Paddy with a mix of silent sorrow and anger that blurts out in nonsensical rhyme.
The money-grubbing Savages — Chad Canfield as Senator Titus, Taylor Foster as Judge Samuel and Carole Martin as drama queen Lily Belle — add to the chaos that the mild-mannered Dr. Emmett (Nick Cherrier) and nurse Miss Willie (Mary Kilburg) try to rein in.
Director Mary Campbell, who directed Dyanna and Scott Davidson in the play in high school, finds that fine line between allowing audiences to laugh at the antics without laughing at the underlying conditions that affect all the characters.
A palpable sweetness runs through this show that sent ripples of laughter and cheers across the opening night audience — with just a touch of tears as love was spoken in many languages.
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