Theatre / The Curious Savage

A heartwarming play by John Patrick, first produced in 1950.

Mrs. Ethel P. Savage has just inherited $10 million from her late husband. After her husbands death, she realizes her crazy, youthful dreams and plans to use the money to help others make do the same. Her stepkids—Lily Belle, Titus, and Samuel—commit her to The Cloisters, a sanatorium in Massachusetts, so that they can get their hands on the money. Somehow or another, Mrs. Savage manages to send them on one wild-goose chase after another from her seclusion.

Along the way, she gets to know the Cloisters's residents:

Hannibal: A former statistician, who believes he is an excellent violinist.

Florence: A dignified woman who carries around a baby doll, believing it to be her deceased son.

Fairy May: A plain girl who believes she is stunningly beautiful, and is determined to have someone say "I love you" to her at least once a day.

Jeff: A handsome guy whose plane was shot down in World War II, and thinks the incident left him with a disfiguring scar.

Mrs. Paddy: Was told once to shut up, and never spoke again, except to rant: "I hate lightning, skunk cabbage, custard, mustard, spiders, blisters...."

Dr. Emmett: The voice of reason.

Miss Willie: A nurse.

Even though the setting and premise look serious on paper, this play, done right, is both comedy and gentle satire. The three Savage children are contrasted against the kind inmates at the Cloisters; add Mrs. Savage to the mix, and audiences are often left wondering who the sane ones really are.

This play contains examples of:

  • Baby-Doll Baby: Florence, one of the inmates in the sanitarium, has a doll she thinks is her deceased son.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mrs. Savage's teddy bear.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Seeing as how six characters live in the nuthouse...
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Savage
  • Double Entendre
  • Dartboard of Hate: At Fairy May's suggestion, Mrs. Savage does this to Lily Belle. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Mrs. Savage, although only while insulting Lily Bell, who's had six husbands.
  • Happily Married: Mrs. Savage never regretted all of the things she didn't get to do because she married young until after her husband died.
  • Elderly Blue-Haired Lady: Mrs. Savage again. After dying her hair red and then going with a Skunk Stripe, she finally decided just to tint her hair blue, since it goes with everything.
  • Jerkass: In a set of three.
  • May–December Romance: Presumably. Mrs. Savage was 16 when she met her husband and he already had three children.
  • Truth Serum: Averted by medical ethics.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Mrs. Savage tells her stepkids that the money is hidden in the most ridiculous places.... and they swallow it whole.
  • Violently Protective Wife: Downplayed; when one of the Savage children does something that bothers Jeff, Nurse Willie charges up and and tells him to get away from him. Unusually for this trope, Jeff doesn't know they're married.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Possibly why the savage children instantly decided to hate Ethel, although in this case it's more like Wicked Stepchildren.