COVID-19 played havoc with MHS’ fall play, but the cast never quit and the show is back on

COVID-19 played havoc with MHS’ fall play, but the cast never quit and the show is back on
Ethan Wiley, Jennifer Batts and Jackson Lamb rehearse a scene from the Mexico High School play The Curious Savage on Monday night. The performance is back on schedule after a COVID-19 delay. [Dave Faries]
By: 
Dave Faries
Editor

A group of actors are gathered around a portable rack, picking out the dresses, vests and ties that best suit their characters. It’s more difficult than one might expect. Director Sara Given, Mexico High’s drama teacher, must orchestrate costume changes – it would not be good if all the actors appeared on stage wearing blue.

For the cast and crew of the MHS production of The Curious Savage, the scene is familiar. They were here two months ago, looking through the same selection of outfits.

COVID-19 pulled the curtain on the original schedule in early November, just a few rehearsals before opening night. The school shut down and the play went into pandemic-related limbo.

Now The Curious Savage is on again, set for a Jan. 22-24 run before a socially distanced audience.

For the actors, returning to the stage after the disappointment of postponement and a lengthy break is a bit daunting – “you’re scared you won’t be able to do your character anymore,” said Jennifer Batts, who plays Lily Belle. And the uncertainties caused by the virus still linger.

“We really want it to happen,” said Nayeli Ruiz, who takes on the role of the nurse. “We don’t want to lose what we’ve worked on.”

But the cast has also recognized an opportunity for improvement.

“It’s definitely a lot more difficult than a normal play,” observed Jackson Unger, who takes on Jeff, who walks around with an imaginary war wound. “But it gave you time to refine your character.”
Jackson Lamb plays Titus. To call him cunning and deceitful would just scratch the surface.

“I’ve discovered a lot about him,” Lamb said. “He’s bland and cold hearted, but he does everything with a purpose.”

The group never gave up on their characters or the play. They continued to read their lines throughout the break, with one exception.

When Given was allowed to reschedule the performances, Grant Norfleet realized he had a conflict. As Hannibal, Norfleet held a key role. The character is musical, frustrated, decent yet sometimes barely tolerant of intrusion. His interactions with Fairy May, made lively by the bouncing Kaitlyn Rose, carry the opening moments of the play.

So William Sause stepped in. He’s a first-timer when it comes to stage productions and on this particular Monday night rehearsal is still memorizing cues and blocking – the stage term for where an actor is supposed to be and when.

He’s months behind the other actors and says catching up has been a bit of a challenge. He also knows how frustrating it was for Norfleet to back out.

“I felt bad for him,” Sause explained. “But this is my first play I’ve been in and I couldn’t turn it down.”

Otherwise, it’s the same production.

Ethel P. Savage is a kindly older woman whose husband left her $10 million. She sets up a charitable foundation to give back to the community – which all seems too sweet, especially for Broadway.

In John Patrick’s 1950 comedy, the pitfalls are many. You see, Mrs. Savage has greedy adult stepchildren keen to cash in. So she must hide the money, which is in the form of bonds that anyone can access. When the stepchildren realize this, they have her committed to an asylum in an attempt to win the fortune over through nefarious means.

The play takes place in “The Cloisters,” and its inmates are cleverly drawn. They have trouble adjusting to the outside world, but are of good nature, in contrast to Mrs. Savage’s conniving stepchildren.

“It’s a fun play and it has a good message,” Hayley Hannon told The Ledger when the play was originally previewed. She plays Florence, an inmate at The Cloisters.

Shadora Foy takes on the role of Ethel Savage. She brings out her character’s kindness and sensitivity to those in need, but also builds on Savage’s inner strength – the force that allows her to fend off the bad guys.

“For the people at The Cloisters I’m nice,” Foy explained. “But for my children, you see a different character.”

The evil triumvirate are played with villainous splendor by Lamb, Batts and Ethan Wiley. Even in November Lamb brought a dastardly force to his version of Titus Savage, leader of the bunch. Now he’s found greater depth in the character.

As Lily Belle, Batts adds sass to the stage – “she doesn’t take guff,” Batts said of her character – while Wiley plays a more reserved role.

“I play the least evil character,” he said. “It makes me a better actor. I have to hate what my siblings say, but still agree with them.”

Hannon, Rose, Unger, the newly added Sause and Mia Moeller are residents of The Cloisters, which is staffed by Logan Wilson, as the doctor, and nurse Ruiz.

Rose as Fairy May is a sprite given to exaggerating her past, pondering childlike possibilities and posturing dramatically. Moeller’s Mrs. Paddy just can’t see the need for electricity. Hannon’s character is steady.

“It’s like putting a cast of sidekicks on stage and asking them to carry the humor.,” Unger observed. “It’s a comedy, but we aren’t trying to be funny.”

There’s an underlying message to the play, but no spoilers here.

“They’re going to love the comedy, but have a warm touch when they realize what the play is about,” Ruiz said.

The Curious Savage opens on Jan. 22 with a 7 pm performance. Two more shows follow, on Jan. 23 at 7 pm and a 2:30 pm matinee on Jan. 24. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and must be reserved in advance for socially distanced seating.

“The night of the first show is the best feeling ever,” Batts said in anticipation of opening night. “All the adrenaline, everything is out there.”

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