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THEATER REVIEW : Greed, Insanity Create Amusing Comedy : 'The Curious Savage,' which was first produced in 1950, is a fable that is entertaining despite its many cliches.

July 27, 1995|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Continuing with its policy of presenting comfortable comedies, the Elite Theatre Company has resurrected a play that's been a high school theater staple for decades, John Patrick's "The Curious Savage."

One of those fables in which the inmates of the real or imagined asylum are more "sane" than those outside, "Savage" is evocative of "You Can't Take It With You." Its plot device of greedy folk looking for an inheritance reminds one a bit of the Elite group's show from earlier this year, "Lie, Cheat & Genuflect."

In "Savage," an elderly, wealthy woman is institutionalized by her avaricious stepchildren, who are convinced that she's prepared to write them out of her will. Inside the asylum, the woman (who is really quite sane) makes friends with her fellow inmates, helping affect changes in their own mental health.

As dusty as the story and characters of "The Curious Savage" are, it's surprising to learn that Patrick (whose other works include "The Hasty Heart" and "Sayonara") first had the play produced as recently as 1950. And for all of its cliches, Patrick's unpretentious play is often amusing, and frequently radiates a pleasant warmth.

As much might be said of the current version, directed by Judy Heiliger (who has starred in a production by Carpinteria's Seaside Theatre), there's nothing about it that will dazzle audiences, and some of the performances are less assured than others, but those who see the play are likely to have felt their money to be well-spent.

Barbara Hudson stars as Mrs. Savage, a role she plays with authority and wit. Alan Price plays stepson Senator Titus Savage as Dan Aykroyd might (think of his uptight, self-centered characters in "Trading Places" and "Driving Miss Daisy"). Monica Skirvin is a standout as social-climbing stepdaughter Lily Belle, who, her disapproving brother notes, "has married too many foreigners."

Among the inmates are Victor Williams as shellshocked soldier Jeff, Irv Citron as frustrated fiddler Hannibal, Ann Heiliger as Pollyannaish Fairy May, Darla Eden as delusional Florence and (another standout) Betty Taffert as Mrs. Paddy, whose only words are lists of things she doesn't like, which is just about everything.

Dawn Shreve plays kindly nurse Miss Willie (this is an asylum where the otherwise-uniformed nurses wear dress pumps) and Glen Jacobs is the sympathetic staff doctor.

Details

* WHAT: "The Curious Savage."

* WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Aug. 19.

* WHERE: Petit Ranch House, 730 S. B St. (Heritage Square), Oxnard.

* HOW MUCH: $10 (general admission), $8 (seniors); Visa and MasterCard accepted.

* CALL: 525-6301.

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