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Theatre / The Curious Savage

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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 husband's 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, with the mind of a six-year-old, 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:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Senator Titus P. Savage is the most hated man in the Senate. The only reason he keeps getting re-elected is that no one wants him back in the state. Similarly, Judge Samuel Savage constantly has his decisions reversed on appeal.
  • The Alleged Expert: Samuel Savage is a very ineffective judge.
  • Baby-Doll Baby: Florence, one of the inmates in the sanitarium, has a doll she thinks is her deceased son.
  • But Now I Must Go: Inverted. Mrs. Savage is given permission to leave the sanitarium, but doesn't want to, because she's found a peace in The Cloisters that she's never experienced elsewhere. Dr. Emmett has to persuade her that it's the outside world that needs her.
    Dr. Emmett: [talking about the residents] They have found refuge in an eggshell world where you don't belong. For you see yourself clearly, I'm sure.
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  • Chekhov's Gun: Mrs. Savage's teddy bear.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Seeing as how six characters live in the nuthouse...
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Savage.
  • Dartboard of Hate: At Fairy May's suggestion, Mrs. Savage does this to Lily Belle. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Death by Materialism: Narrowly avoided by Samuel Savage, who searches for Mrs. Savage's bonds inside an old brick chimney in Boston. When he starts pulling out bricks, the chimney promptly collapses on him, breaking his arm.
    Mrs. Savage: Well, for some people—it takes a ton of bricks, you know.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Mrs. Savage, although only while insulting Lily Belle, who's had six husbands.
  • Double Entendre
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Happy Place: As she leaves, Mrs. Savage briefly sees the Cloisters residents as they see themselves—Mrs. Paddy's easel holds a beautiful seascape, Hannibal is playing skillfully on the violin, Fairy May is well-dressed and lovely, etc. The one exception is Jeff, whose self-imagined scar is nowhere to be seen; instead, he is playing the piano with his old skill and self-confidence, just as he wishes he could.
  • Hidden Depths: Mrs. Savage discovers that Jeff is a gifted concert pianist, who hasn't played since the war because of his "injury."
  • 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.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Mrs. Savage gives each of her children a private message (spoken or in writing) trusting them with the secret location of her millions. Each, naturally, runs off to claim the wealth without informing the others. And all of them have been lied to.
  • Not What It Looks Like: A non-romantic version occurs for both Lily Belle and Titus, when they go hunting for Mrs. Savage's bonds. Lily Belle is arrested as a vandal when she searches a stuffed porpoise at the Natural History Museum, while Titus gets intercepted as he's digging up the President's hothouse.
    Titus: Eight FBI men jumped me—pushed my face in the dirt. Thought I was planting a bomb.
  • The Reveal: Because Jeff always keeps one side of his face covered, neither Mrs. Savage nor the audience realize until Act II that his scar is psychosomatic.
  • Survivor Guilt: Jeff survived unscathed when his bomber was shot down in World War II, but he lost his entire crew. Out of guilt, he convinces himself that he received a hideous facial scar, which he covers constantly.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Mrs. Savage tells her stepkids that the money is hidden in the most ridiculous places... and they swallow it whole.
  • Truth Serum: Averted by medical ethics.
  • 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.