The story concerns a widow, Edith Savage (Mary Rausch), who intends to spend her inheritance satisfying people's fantasies. The stepchildren lock her up in a genteel nuthouse. The only thing they forget is that only she knows where the money is. After she tells them various stories that only get them bad publicity (one stepson, for instance, tries to dig up the President's petunias in search of the money), she hands over the dough. Another character steals it, though, and makes it look as though it has been burned. When the kids depart, Edith gets her money back, and the kindly head of the asylum, Dr. Emmett, gives her her freedom.
While the plotline concerns the family melodrama, the play concerns the inmates: Florence (Stephanie Courtney), whose son was taken from her, pretends that a doll is her son; Hannibal (Tony Hale), the high-strung statistician (very mistakenly) thinks he plays a mean violin; Fairy May (Paige Witte), the remarkably plain girl with romantic fantasies; Jeffrey (Rich Swingle), a real musician, thinks his (perfectly normal) face is so badly disfigured that he can't appear in public; and Mrs. Paddy paints obsessively ugly pictures and has little to say beyond her list of hates. Edith, who while eccentric is not nuts -- she doesn't deny the reality of the world; she just wants to change it -- weaves her way into the lives of the asylum inmates.
The ugly stepchildren -- Titus, the senator with the greatest volume of hate mail, all pompous bluff (David Storck); Samuel, the judge with the greatest number of reversed judgments (played as a weak-livered know-nothing by Anthony Ridley); and Lily Belle, the over-the-hill socialite (Sheila York) -- try to work on the staff to get Edith's money. They convince Dr. Emmett (played with Robert Young warmth by Bob Romano) to give Edith a truth drug, but Nurse Wilhelmina (in a sympathetic turn by Michele Stevens) foils their plans. A touching tableau at the end shows the remaining inmates suddenly transformed into whole human beings (an idea that resurfaced much later in the ending of The Boys Next Door.)
This is not a very important play, although it provides an entertaining look back at '40s comedy (even if it was performed on Broadway first -- and last -- in 1950). It suggests a perhaps unintentionally sinister idea about the medical profession, as the evil stepchildren get the doctor to agree to use drugs to steal Edith's money, just so it can be spent on more socially acceptable causes (like supporting the stepkids). Only when the money seems to be gone is the doctor willing to let Edith out.
The Lion's built a complete box set (Stephen Bessen) which the play required (some parts, notably the wainscoting, could have used more ``techniquing,'' instead of flat latex). Great care went into costumes (Mark Horton), props (Heather Jacobs), and hair styles (Dorothy Houghton); a coffee service, indeed, looked too fine for an asylum day room.
Lighting (Stephen Bessen and Mark Lentz), while provided by a plethora of instruments, was not very even, so when actors crossed up centre the Sun appeared to go behind a cloud.
All in all, though, a perfect matinee. And a perfect showcase for a talented ensemble.
Copyright 1997 John Chatterton
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