Lillian Gish in the Theatre Guild’s Production of ‘The Curious Savage’ – By Brooks Atkinson (The New York Times – Oct. 25, 1950)

The New York Times – Oct. 25, 1950

AT THE THEATRE

Lillian Gish in the Theatre Guild’s Production of ‘The Curious Savage’

By Brooks Atkinson

In the days before the great enlightenment, people used to go to Bedlam to enjoy the odd behavior of the lunatics. Last evening, the Theatre Guild invited the subscribers to the Martin Beck to see the antics of the characters in “The Curious Savage.”

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John Patrick, who wrote the Hasty Heart”, has written this excursion into a modern, Bedlam. Presumably, he has something ,more than sensation and curiosity in mind. For his chief character is an elderly lady whose gaiety and generous impulses look like lunacy to her stepchildren. Alarmed by the liberality with which she gives money away to people she likes, her stepchildren have her committed to an institution.

If you imagine that the patients in the mental institution are more amiable than the stepchildren, and that the elderly lady returns with genuine regrets and misgivings to the sane world outside, you are a very experienced theatergoer indeed, and need no further instruction. Mr. Patrick’s attitude is not exactly original.

Things in the theatre are criticized frequently as being in bad taste. Some people think that Olsen and Johnson are in bad taste, which seems plausible. But this column would like to suggest that “The Curious Savage” is also in bad taste, and that the delusions and crotchets of people who are mentally ill are not genuinely amusing.

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Mr. Patrick has filled his comedy with bright remarks, precocious sayings and the foibles of the mad. No doubt his intentions are honorable. We have “The Hasty Heart,, to show that he is a man of compassion. But the writing of “The Curious Savage” is not subtle, and the performance is a lark. To at least one theatregoer, this jovial portrait of psychopathic people is embarrassing.

Although Peter Glenville has directed the performance nimbly, he cannot exorcize the spirit of the comedy. And if you are not comfortable in the company of the deranged inmates of a mental institution, you are likely to regard Lillian Gish’s performance as a trifle kittenish in the part of the roguish lady who is legally sane.

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Robert Emhardt gives a first rate performance as the most cheerful of the imbeciles, finding just the right tone and emphasis to define a character. The cast also includes Isobel Elsom, Marta Linden, Flora Campbell, Gladys Henson, Lois Hall and Hugh Reilly, who give good performances in other parts. The single set of the living-room in a home-like institution has been pleasantly designed by George Jenkins.

On its own terms as polite entertainment with a faint edge of satire, “The Curious Savage” is a fairly mild play. But many theatergoers are likely to regard the whole project as distasteful. Bedlam is not so delightfully amusing as it was a hundred years ago.

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The Cast

THE CURIOUS SAVAGE, a comedy ln three acts, by John Patrick. Staged by Peter Glenville; production designed and lighted by George Jenkins; costumes by Anna Hill Johnstone; presented by the Theatre Guild, Russell Lewis and Howard Young. At the Martin Beck Theatre.

Florence …………………….. Isobel Elsom

Hannibal ……….….…. Robert Emhardt

Fairy May ………………….….…. Lois Hall

Jeffrey ………………..………. Hugh Reilly

Mrs. Paddy …………….. Gladys Henson

Titus …………………….. Brandon Peters

Samuel …….……..….. Howard Wendell

Lily Belle ………..……..… Marta Linden

Ethel …………………………… Lillian Gish

Miss Wilhelmina ……. Flora Campbell

Dr. Emmett ………….……. Sydney Smith

Brooks Atkinson (The New York Times, October 25, 1950)

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The Curious Savage - Brooks Atkinson - NY Times Oct 25 1950

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