The Curious Savage

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Ruth Hale is a crazy, forgetful old woman. Also, she’s starring in “The Curious Savage.”

Relax! It’s a joke. Please, put down the phone.

Though suffering from a slow start, “The Curious Savage” works up to be a pretty entertaining comedy, with a surprisingly touching finale. In it, wealthy widow Ethel Savage (Ruth Hale on Thursdays and Fridays; Maureen Eastwood the other nights) has been committed to a mental institution by her children, who are angry that she wants to leave all her money to charity rather than give it to them. Their reasoning is that anyone who would just GIVE all that money away can’t be sane. When she announces she’s forgotten where she put all the money, well, that’s the last straw.

The children are fatuous senator Titus (Richard Lossee; double-cast with Brent Whitlock), pompous judge Samuel (Daryl Tucker), and money-marrying socialite Lily Belle (Kathleen O’Reilly-Nutt). All three roles are excellently played with grand hoity-toity absurdity.

Sharing space at the nut house is the typical lot of lovable crazies. There’s Florence (Sherry Brian; double-cast with Tracy Whitlock), ostensibly the most normal but with an air of sadness about her that Brian plays with perfect dignified tragedy; Hannibal (Paul Hill), a violinist who can’t play the violin; Fairy May (Kim Wares), a wacky, plain-looking gal; Jeffrey (Nathan Wright), a man scarred emotionally — and, he thinks, physically — by the war; and Mrs. Paddy (Kathy Llewellyn), a rumpled woman who paints seascapes and never speaks except to name the things she hates.

They’re a fun bunch, and while it may seem we don’t get to know them beyond the superficial level, you’ll realize that’s not true when the poignant, non-sappy final moments arrive.

Wares is a bit over-the-top as Fairy May, an unceasingly ball of loopy energy with no varying degrees of loopiness. It’s like arbitrarily choosing the speed of 50 mph for your car and then always driving that speed: Sometimes it’s too much; other times, it’s exactly right.

Carrie Hill plays the sympathetic nurse Miss Wilhelmina, and Larson Holyoak is the sympathetic Dr. Emmett. No “Cuckoo’s Nest” Nurse Ratchet here, fortunately.

And then there’s Ruth Hale. She’s 92 years old, and at this point rarely plays the lead in shows at either of the Utah theaters that bear her name. She doesn’t get around too well anymore, and memorizing lines is difficult. On opening night, she drew a blank a few times, and damaged a few more punch lines by not getting them out quickly enough (timing is everything, as you know).

But the fact is, when she nails it, she really nails it. She can be fantastic to watch — acerbic and feisty, her old blue eyes twinkling with energy, or conveying sadness at the situation, her sweet grandmotherly voice cracking out subtle put-downs and sarcastic observations the way my own late Grandma Merrifield used to do (and probably still does, assuming a sense of humor is allowed in heaven).

Ruth Hale is sweet and endearing. Also, she’s starring in “The Curious Savage.” Go see it.

An old widow woman, slightly off-kilter, decides to become an actress. Unable to find anyone who will hire her, she writes her own plays and performs them. Her children are after her money. Is this Ruth Hale's autobiography? Of course not. She was acting and writing long before her husband died.

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