"Curious Savage" charm with their idiosyncrasies

By Tri Q. Nguyen
for the NW Asian Weekly

Starting a new theater company is such hard work that you want the inaugural production to come out a winner. Director David Hsieh and his Repertory Actors Workshop (ReAct) have done well their first time out, despite a little uneveness that never really blunts the play's charm. "The Curious Savage" is an engaging comedy well worth seeing.

The story follows Ethel Savage, the wealthy widowed matriarch of the Savage clan. When her husband dies, she gets to pursue her youthful dreams.

But when Ethel wants to establish a foundation to disburse the family's wealth to anybody who wants to make his whimsical schemes come true, her three adult children think she's gone off the deep end. Exasperated by her eccentricity, the children have her committed to an asylum.

All the action takes place at The Cloisters. Its inmates understand the charm in Ethel Savage's "foolishness" and immediately take her in. But even behind her locked door, Ethel Savage has enough control over the family's financial affairs to seriously tweak her greedy children's noses. This sets up confrontations later in the play.

the inmates conduct themselves quite normally, even affably, at fisrt glance, but each has his or her little problem. Hannibal, the overly-polite violinist, is seriously deluded about his own abilities. Florence, a matronly woman, goes about convinced that her dead little boy is still alive. And Mrs. Paddy pads about silently with her paints and canvases until we hear her only utterances, a rhyming, sing-song recitation of all the things she hates.

It sounds alarming, but the inmates are charming. Despite the relevations about these inmates' past, damaged lives, they've made a very comfortable home for themselves at the asylum. Each is aware of the others' problems, but they're careful not to let on.

These people share a surprising code of civility among themselves. It's a logic that works in the asylum, keeping the hurtful outside world at bay. Ethel Savage, wise and eccentric, is welcomed into the warmth of this new found family.

Audiences will recognize veterans from The Group and the Northwest Asian American Theater in this all Asian American cast. Kathy Hsieh plays Fairy May, one of the inmates, an endearing girl who often bursts out with the most unbelievable lies. Hsieh is irrepressible here and gives a strong performance.

John Te Ho Park's Hannibal is bowtied and befuddled, a gentleman from another age, also a strong performance. Eloisa Cardona is sharp-tongued as Ethel's caustic, oft-divorced daughter. Tama Tokuda is terrific as Ethel Savage, played with striking understatement as she dispenses wisdom.

John Patrick's 1950 script is full of quick repartee and disarming humor, and fortunately director David Hsieh handles this deftly. He needs to pick up the pace of the action though.

It plays until July 27th at the Theatre Off Jackson on Seventh Avenue in the International District. Call 364-3283 for ticket information.


July 17, 1993

© 1993 Northwest Asian Weekly. Reprinted with permission by ReAct.

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