The New Depot Players' upcoming production of John Patrick's "The Curious Savage" represents the 12th play directed by Cyndi Evans, who's been part of the theatre scene in Conyers for nearly three decades.
For her 12th directorial project, Evans decided to venture to the past - literally and figuratively - to come up with the ensemble's spring show.
"The very first play I ever directed, which was about a million years ago, was a John Patrick play called 'A Bad Year for Tomatoes,' which was a silly, campy comedy," said Evans. "I liked Patrick's work and continued to read up on him for future reference.
"This is a play my mother was in 40 years ago at a community theatre in Covington and I always thought it was a cute little play. I remembered it as being something really different and decided to pull it back out for our spring production. It was still as cute and challenging as I remembered it."
"The Curious Savage" opens at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 18 at the black box theatre at Center Street Arts in Olde Town Conyers. There will be 8 p.m. performances on April 19, 24, 25 and 26 with a 5 p.m. matinee scheduled for Sunday, April 20.
The play, which is billed as a comedy, concerns Mrs. Ethel Savage, an eccentric widow who inherited $10 million from her late husband. Her conniving stepchildren want to get their hands on the estate, but Mrs. Savage wants to give it all away to charity, which eventually lands her in a mental institution with a host of colorful "guests."
"It's a funny play but it does have some serious moments," said Evans. "And in the end, the play's message is that kindness is still a good thing."
Evans was a vital member of the original Depot Players, which disbanded in the early 1990s (when the Depot in Olde Town Conyers was no longer available), but reemerged some eight years ago as the New Depot Players.
"This is our third official season as the New Depot Players," she said. "When we were kicked out of the Depot, we tried to have shows at other sites and I remember we did 'Sweeney Todd' in the lunchroom at Salem High School about 16 years ago. In 2001, I directed a local production of 'All Because of Agatha,' and we decided to get the Players back together and we've been at it ever since."
The play has been a challenge for Evans on two fronts. "The Curious Savage" takes place in 1951 and Evans opted not to do any updating, so this will be her first "period piece" as a director. And in the cast of 11, she'll have five actors making their New Depot Players debut.
"I've never done a period piece before," said Evans, who pointed out she joined the Depot Players two years after they were established in 1976. "So that meant doing a lot of extra work for costumes sets and props. And I'm a hands-on director, which makes things tough because I get into every character's head and I'm always out hunting for costumes and props to make the show realistic.
"This show was such a good fit for the actors that auditioned that I felt we just had to do it - selecting this play was based on the auditions and the fact that I just wanted to try something different."
Judy Mauran, who is perhaps best known as the longtime operator of the Conyers School of Ballet, will portray Mrs. Savage in her return to the stage. She is one of six veteran New Depot Players in the production.
"I'd say Judy is as close to a charter member of the Depot Players as we're liable to find," said Evans. "I came on in 1978 and she was already a veteran then. We've got a lot of newcomers, which is always fun and is always a challenge because most of them are pretty brand-new to the stage."
Patrick (1905-1995) was a prolific playwright and earned a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize for his 1953 adaptation of "The Teahouse of the August Moon." He is perhaps best known, however, for his screenwriting credits, which included "Three Coins in the Fountain" (1954), "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" (1955), "Some Came Running" (1958), "The World of Susie Wong" (1960) and "The Shoes of the Fisherman" (1968).
While "The Curious Savage" is a comedy which takes place in a psychiatric institution, Evans said she's made great pains to ensure the performance is sympathetic to the mentally ill.
"We're not taking it for laughs," she said. "We're playing it with real people having real problems - we're not camping them up for quick laughs. The dialogue is funny enough - it's not laugh-out-loud hilarious like some shows I've done, but it's clever and cute. If anything, Mrs. Savage's stepchildren are the ones who are broadly played. We're sensitive to the needs of the 'guests' and their conditions."
"The Curious Savage" also marks a different approach for the New Depot Players in terms of scheduling. Instead of opening on a Thursday, the decision was made to open on a Friday with a Sunday matinee on the first weekend, which gives older residents a day of their own to see the production.
"We're hoping to be able to get people to come to the Sunday matinee who would rather not drive at night," said Evans. "This way, my mother is sure to be able to see it."
The New Depot Players will close out its 2007-08 season with a summer musical, which will be directed by Ann Hargis and will debut at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 10 for the first of six performances. Evans said the ensemble was leaning toward staging Studs Terkel's "Working" as the summer show.
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at email@example.com.
SideBar: If you go
What: "The Curious Savage," presented by the New Depot Players
When: 8 p.m. on April 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 and 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 15
Where: Center Street Arts Center, 910 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers
Cost: Tickets are $20 and can be obtained by calling the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts at 770-922-3143 or by visiting www.conyersarts.org.