Western Reserve Academy to stage The Curious Savage
Rose Vardell

A timeless comedy, this year’s fall play will charm and delight.

Join us for a staging of “The Curious Savage” inside our Knight Fine Arts Center.

Friday, Nov. 4 | 8 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 5 | 8 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 6 | 2 p.m.

Admission is free. All are welcome!

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It used to be that the word “asylum” was common nomenclature for an institution offering support to those who are mentally ill (these days, it feels like a dated term). But “The Curious Savage” reminds us of its other definition — granting safety or protection, like an umbrella in a rainstorm. This is, in part, the premise of this irresistible and sweet production.

When good and kindhearted Mrs. Ethel P. Savage learns she has been left with 10 million dollars from her late husband, she sets her mind to putting that money to philanthropic use — much to the dismay of her entitled and enterprising stepchildren, who promptly plop her right into a sanatorium known as The Cloisters, not counting on the help she finds in this most unexpected place.

Originally published in 1951, “The Curious Savage” is a warm old chestnut that makes its debut on the Knight Fine Arts Center stage this November. It’s a comedy with a conscience, less of a slapstick show and more of a touching tale about loyalty, friendship and acceptance. When we first meet the residents of The Cloisters, who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of someone new, we realize they are fully functional individuals, eccentric, endearing and clearly sane.

“They’re kind, quirky and gentle people who just don’t fit into their society,” shared Director and Fine & Performing Arts Department faculty member Donalee Ong. “And as you get to know them, you realize they each have very poignant reasons for why they can’t face the outside world.”

Their humanity and compassion is a sharp contrast to the coldness of the younger Savages and through the play’s conflicts, conversations and hijinks, this is the steady heartbeat — a quiet theme of kindness and tolerance pushing back against avarice and animosity. Donalee noted that this was something cast members picked up on intuitively and have enjoyed exploring.

“I just love this play,” shared Donalee. “I'm actually kind of surprised I haven't done it before. It felt perfect for right now. And while it’s a 1950s play, it feels like a period piece as opposed to a dated piece. Everything that we're exploring is absolutely relevant today.”

The stage is set for a wonderful performance, with a set designed by Technical Theater Director Brandon Davies who, with help from his Stagecraft students, has crafted a wing in the sanatorium where much of the story takes place. With towering bookshelves full of knickknacks and cushy armchairs, it’s all things safe and cozy, a pleasant respite for the residents. Fine & Performing Arts Chair Carol Parker-Mittal has created costumes with trends hailing from the 1940s — after all, it’s likely the fashion of the 1950s might not have fit into mainstream society just yet. And of course, our talented cast and crew have been hard at work bringing colorful characters to life and crafting a smooth production.

It’s a relatively small cast, with just 11 students on the list (see the full cast list). And in a show like this, there’s so much opportunity to stretch and have fun — playing the churlish, villainous stepchildren can be just as delightful and freeing as playing the kind and kooky residents. Donalee noted the subtlety of some of the actor’s decisions — for example, seasoned KFAC performer Alex Newman ’24, who plays Mrs. Savage, a 70-year-old widow, has found a happy medium in the portrayal of an older woman.

“We’re not going over the top with it,” explained Donalee. “It’s more subtle — and Alex gets it, she brings a lot of maturity to the role. She moves a little slower, her gestures and the way she holds herself are all indicators of her age."

In every KFAC show, we’re reminded of the many benefits of the performing arts. It is always a delight to see our students push themselves in this way, to examine the human condition, and offer our community the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations, all while enjoying a fabulous performance. 

Break a leg, Pioneers!