A thoughtful comedy is coming to the high school stage this weekend, complete with complex and wacky characters, a hidden fortune, and heart.
The Montezuma-Cortez High School theater department is producing John Patrick’s “The Curious Savage” this fall. It’s a unique play – with elements of a mystery or psychological drama – but ultimately, it’s about family, said theater director Nicholaus Sandner.
“It’s about family and it’s about unconventional families,” Sandner said. “And building families with people that are around you that care about you. Which is really what our department tries to do.”
The play centers around Ethel P. Savage, a widow whose husband left her $10 million, and who is living in a sanatorium called “The Cloisters.” Ethel plans to use the money to “fund everybody else’s foolish dreams,” said Liliana Gomez, who portrays the widow.
However, Gomez said her “mongrels of children” seek the money for themselves – although their efforts are stymied when Ethel hides it. Throughout the play, the residents of The Cloisters offer a quirky but kindly contrast to the step-children.
The M-CHS troupe embraced the character-heavy aspects of the play, said stage manager Landin Taylor.
“We took a different approach, this show,” Taylor said. “We let the characters direct themselves.” They were given basic blocking, Sandner added, but the characters and their relationship with one another really guided the play.
For the student-actors taking on the parts of The Cloisters residents, it took not only stepping into their character – but stepping into their characters’ alternate perceptions of themselves. (One falsely believes himself to be a concert violinist, another that he was severely injured in war, for example.)
Grace Shepard plays Florence, who thinks a doll she carries is her actual son. Shepard finds the doll a bit creepy, she said, but she’s found a coping mechanism.
“I pretend that he’s my little brother,” she said. Her actual brother (spoiler alert) makes a cameo at the end of the play, in a scene when the residents’ alternate worldviews are brought to life.
Mia Parks plays Miss Willie, a nurse at The Cloisters. While her character is “not crazy,” there are some challenges with figuring out how to interact with the residents.
“Building the relationships with the characters is probably my most challenging thing right now,” she said. “Just trying to make sure that my character has a believable relationship with the other characters.”
But students have grown into their characters and are “still blossoming,” Taylor said. And they have developed close friendships with one another.
“I’m a senior, I wish I’d started earlier, because I absolutely love it,” said Taybree Grider, who portrays one of Ethel Savage’s step-children. This was her first foray into high school theater. “But what I love most is the bonds that I’ve made with people. And also just exploring your character.”
Sandner said this play pairs well with the another production coming up: “Fiddler on the Roof.” They both have comedic elements alongside some harder themes, he said.
“They bookend the season nicely because they both have a lot of heart, they’re both about family, they both focus on joy,” he said. “And our theme for this season is ‘To Life.’ And so it’s all about finding life in things, finding the good in things.
“This show does a really nice job of that, of showing how people can take hard situations and make the best of it.”
The play opens Friday night. Performances are at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15, 16, 22, and 23, and at 2 p.m. on Nov. 16 and 23.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and free for children 5 and younger. They are available at the door or online at the M-CHS drama department website.