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Aldersgate Mounts A Charmer

Theater Review

There's a great deal of charm emanating from the stage as the Aldersgate Church Community Theatre presents playwright John Patick's warmly affectionate comedy "The Curious Savage." It is not a piece that is filled with belly laughs, but the star of the show, Bonnie Jourdan and a quartet of characters who befriend her, make it an appealing evening.

By far the most charming thing about the entire show is Jourdan in a role that silent film star Lillian Gish originated on Broadway in 1950. She plays a wealthy widow being committed to a mental institution by her step children who want to keep her from giving away the family fortune. She's a gentle soul who wants to spread a unique kind of happiness throughout the world.

When she's challenged over her habit of giving away large chunks of cash to people who want to do seemingly foolish things, she explains that there are "many charities to help desperate people but none to help people with a desperate need to be foolish."

AS SHE'S CONFINED to a facility for mental patients she demonstrates that the only way she is crazy is that, in the term popular at the time the show was written, she's crazy as a fox. She has converted a substantial portion of her fortune to negotiable securities which she's hidden in . . . oh, let's not give too much away.

Jourdan's charm sets the tone for the scenes involving her and four performers playing fellow patients of the institution. Each takes a gentle, understated approach to parts that could be irritating if overplayed. Julia J. King gives the most mannered performance of the four as an immature but innocent girl with the telling name of "Fairy May," while Gail Seavey avoids overplaying her character's insecurities.

Bill Rinehuls is particularly impish as a patient who has no training at all in playing the violin but who doesn't let that stop him from fiddling away to his heart's content. Tim Pullen avoids overdoing his character's habit of hiding his face to conceal a non-existent scar. His character was once a concert pianist but he emerged from the military after the war carrying psychological scars. He comments on the irony that Rinehuls' character "can't play the violin but he does . . . I can play the piano but I won't."

The characters of the selfish family members who are falsely committing the poor innocent woman for their own financial gain are written more broadly than the gentle residents of the institution and the actors who play the roles have a harder time overcoming their unsympathetic nature. Mike Russell is overly bombastic as a Senator who keeps being reelected only because the voters in his home state know that sending him to Washington is the only way to get him to leave, and Eve Young has a difficult time finding much that is funny in the part of a woman who says she can't be poor because "I don't know how!"

ONE REASON charm takes precedence over mere jokes is the approach of director C. Evans Kirk who stages the piece at a leisurely pace, allowing time between some lines just to let the audience contemplate a particularly cogent comment or amusing observation. He is also responsible for the substantial looking set which makes the institution seem more welcoming and homelike than institutional and foreboding. His one misstep was to place the microphones designed to reinforce the actors' voices so far to the rear that they pick up the noises of movement while missing the speeches being delivered farther forward.