By: Lacy Hilliard
Some may have thought Johnson County High School drama teacher, Lisa Zeggert crazy (pun intended) when she decided to take on the dialogue heavy 1950s classic, The Curious Savage. But the talented teenagers that make up the Johnson County High School Players proved once again that they possess the talent worthy of challenging classic productions.
The Curious Savage was written by John Patrick and premiered in a New York theater in 1950. Set at The Cloisters a sanatorium, The Curious Savage is the story of the recently widowed Ethel P. Savage who stands to inherit a fortune. The long oppressed but always clever Ms. Savage has been wrongfully committed to The Cloisters by her three ungrateful stepchildren A Senator, a former Slovakian Princess turned hopeless socialite, and a judge all with their own ideas about what should be done with the 10 million dollar inheritance.
Portraying the witty and wise Ethel P. Savage was the elegant and poised Ella Conder. Conders strong but calculated performance was the perfect compliment to her characters signature traits. Throughout difficult dialogue and hilarious but purposefully understated lines like, Fifty needles and fifty pins and fifty dirty Republicans, Conder sailed through like an actress far her senior. She brought to the Heritage Hall stage the star power required of a leading lady, and her powerful portrayal of Ms. Savage put all characters in need of a reality check back into their rightful place without even breaking a sweat.
As one might expect, The Cloisters is home to a colorful array of residents each with an engaging back story. Kristen Branch played the role of Fairy May, a charismatic but delusional young girl who wants nothing more than to be loved…by everyone. Branch was electrifying as the energetic and hopelessly neurotic Fairy May. There are few that can command the attention of an audience like the phenomenal Kristen Branch and her portrayal of Fairy May was no exception to the increasingly high bar she has seemingly set for herself.
Its hard to believe that one of the most engaging characters on the stage rarely uttered a word, but that was the power of Tayla Clark as Mrs. Paddy. The ornery Mrs. Paddy will only speak long enough to ramble off a list of things she hates such as rhubarb, cold cream, hot dogs, codfish, crawfish, buttermilk, fractions, and electricity which she has given up for Lent. Mrs. Paddys silence is reportedly as a result of a fight with her husband in which she was told to Shut up, so she has chosen to do so permanently. Clark was absolutely hysterical and endearing as Mrs. Paddy, never once leaving her sour-faced character even while sauntering out, pre-performance to welcome the Heritage Hall audience to the show.
The sweet but sad Florence (a young mother that cannot move past the loss of her child) was played by Madison Green. Green was a perfect cast as the innocent yet tortured young Florence and she tugged at the heartstrings as her character found a moment of clarity yelling, Die?!….I dont want anything to die! with the unavoidable emptiness in her voice that accompanies the loss of a child.
Brian Dempsey dramatized the role of Jeffery. Jefferys life at the Cloisters began after World War II where he served as a pilot and was shot down, resulting in a crash that spared only his life. Tortured by the internal scars of the incident, Jeffery has deluded himself into believing he has a terrible scar on his face. The quiet and perplexed sadness Brian Dempsey portrayed in the role of Jeffery was thought provoking and humanizing.
Evan Lewis was cast in the role of Hannibal a statistician turned violin player…a bad violin player. The misfortunate Hannibal believes that the sound of his violin is a symphony of melodic complexities, when in reality, it sounds as though a toddler has just discovered the wonder of making a racquet. The confident and completely content demeanor Lewis brought to his character gave Hannibal an intrigue that left the audiences wondering just what Hannibal was hearing in his head.
Ms. Savages three wicked stepchildren were acted by Karley Kirsch as Lily Belle, Dade Fritts as Samuel, and Gerald Seaberg as Titus. Kirsch gave a riotous performance as the foot stomping, tantrum throwing, eye rolling Lily Belle; an interesting parallel to the laid back portrayal Fritts carried out in his role as Lily Belles brother Samuel. Samuel remains calm and collected throughout but the occasional glimpse of greed was apparent upon closer inspection. Gerald Seaberg commanded the over privileged crew in his role as Titus a man with an explosive temper peppered with a hefty dose of crybaby.
Hannah Arnett was cast in the role of Miss Willie. Arnett brought to her role a demeanor of kind and quiet understanding. As the housemother, Miss Willie was charged with infusing as much sanity as possible in an otherwise insane situation. Miss Willie holds her position at the Cloisters while clinging to the hope that someday, her beloved husband Jeffery will remember her. Arnetts performance certainly provoked emotion as she patiently prodded her husband, desperately longing for remembrance while also lovingly tending to the needs of all the Cloisters residents.
Carlos Valladares played the role of Dr. Emmett the well-intentioned physician that oversees the Cloisters residents. Valladares took a no-nonsense approach to his character that complimented the dialogue and brought a sense of rational to the irrational.
The Johnson County High School Players under the direction of Lisa Zeggert always provide fantastic entertainment and quality performances with attention paid to every intricacy of the story. This spring, The Players in cooperation with The Johnson County Young Artists will bring The Wizard of Oz to the Heritage Hall stage. For ticket information for all Johnson County High School Players performances as well as other local theatre groups, please visit www.heritagehalltheatre.org