A Warm and Witty SAVAGE at Sketch Club Players

by Ruth K. Brown

(l. to r.) Laura Bongiovanni (on chair), Marcus Roorda, Melissa Silver and Elyse Brier in a scene from Sketch Club Players' THE CURIOUS SAVAGE running through January 30.

As I drove through a residential area, there are people on the streets and small stores still open even on Saturday night close to 8pm. The sense of community impression continued once I parked and walked into the theater itself. It is a small space with maximum seating for 99 with friendly people at the door where I was greeted with a smile. My name was taken; and when my laryngitis was apparent, I was wished a speedy and full recovery.

Thus began my first review trip to Sketch Club Players in Woodbury, NJ. The experience continued as I was seated and provided with an information-packed program. I knew I was “not in Kansas anymore” when a man came to the front of the stage for the preliminary remarks and included with them two of the oldest jokes known to man… think Borscht Belt – think Catskills!! I later found out that this man was Frank G. Myers, production director, SCP President and resident joke teller. We all laughed and groaned where appropriate. Obviously, the audience was here to have a fine time and they were excited to begin.

THE CURIOUS SAVAGE is a charming, emotion-laden piece dealing with the recently widowed Ethel P. Savage, ably and comically played by Nancy Popolow, whose stepchildren are trying to have her committed so they may get their hands on the $10 million left to Ethel by her husband. Ms. Popolow plays the literally blue-haired Mrs. Savage with a sharp wit (never becoming caustic though) and always with sincerity and warmth. Mrs. Savage appears throughout this piece with Bear (ably played Ralph Rupert) who sits easily, says nothing and provides a key piece of information at just the right moment.

The stepchildren: Titus, Samuel and Lily Belle are played by Preston Brooks, John McBride, and Miriam Reichenbach, respectively, as one dimensional people whose sole focus is to get the money they feel they are due. When Mrs. Savage wreaks her small revenges on them in Act II, the audience is pleased that they receive their well-deserved comeuppances. The medical staff completes the characters who deal with reality as it is. Dr. Emmett and Miss Willie are logical and interested caregivers as played by Mike Crane and Elyse Brier. Ms. Brier plays her role so convincingly we are only slightly surprised when her relationship with one of the guests is revealed late in the play.

The guests at the institution are very different from the people who live in the real world. They are a disparate group of people dealing with reality in their own unique and compelling ways. We meet the engaging but dysfunctional Florence (Melissa Silver) who we later learn uses a doll to compensate for her deceased young daughter, Fairy May (Laura Bongiovanni) who has a love/hate relationship with the world desperately needing its approval while sheltering herself and others from it whenever possible, Hannibal (Steve Pracilio) a mathematician seeking refuge with the violin when the world fails him , and Jeffrey (Marcus Roorda) a war damaged man struggling with more internal then external scars. Each character is performed with conviction and their focus didn’t falter even when blocking placed them in difficult positions. Finally, we meet Mrs. Paddy, a small but pivotal role played “just right” by Betty Jane (B.J.) Smith. I must commend her memorizations and multiple rapid recitations of her various “hates”. Non sequitur items strung together in no particular order is monumentally difficult to accomplish and my thanks to Ms. Smith for showing us how to do it properly.

As the plot continues compassion and caring win out over greed, but we are taken on an emotional ride throughout.

While neither the set nor lighting would give Tony contenders any worries, they were sufficient to convey the comfort of the general room at the institution where Mrs. Savage was being admitted. The oversized furniture and stark lighting did convey the impression of institutional needs. The costuming took extra thought for Ms. Bongiovanni’s character of Fairy May and each item supported her athletic and panache-enriched performance. The production team efforts supported the acting work being done onstage and kept everyone in the theater comfortable.

Sketch Club Players is presenting a warm and witty production. A nice place to find respite from the winter cold with a meaningful lesson on the warm feelings one gets from random acts of kindness to be discussed during the car ride home. Come and see for yourself.

by  John Patrick
Directed by Frank Myers
January 21 – 30, 2011
Sketch Club Players
433 Glover Street
Woodbury NJ 08096

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