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‘The Curious Savage’ comes to Minnesota West

Cast members rehearse Tuesday for their production of “A Curious Savage” in the Fine Arts building on the Minnesota West campus in Worthington. Brian Korthals/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — Heads won’t roll but belly laughs may peal when a cast of 11 students performs John Patrick’s period comedy “The Curious Savage” this weekend at the Fine Arts Theatre on the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

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“It’s a comedy with some elements of mystery,” explained director Erin Johnson of the show that premiered in 1950.

“I’d remembered ‘The Curious Savage’ from when I was a kid and my older sister was in it as a high school student—it stuck with me because its characters and story are so fun.”

Production preparations began in January, and Johnson (who was hired to direct the show during Minnesota West instructor Eric Parrish’s year-long sabbatical) said the rollicking rehearsals made the wretched winter seem to pass by more quickly.

“We weren’t as focused on the cold,” she said.

“The Curious Savage” centers on Mrs. Savage, a widowed heiress whose stepchildren are clamoring for her significant financial resources — but at heart are not as sincere or loyal as the five psychiatric patients she encounters.

Minnesota West sophomore Leah Duitsman, seen last year as the seductress Lola in the college’s production of “Damn Yankees,” is featured as Mrs. Savage, while the psychiatric patients are students Natasha Polzine, Stephen Brunk, Tiffany Gehl, Alex Tang and Emily Williamson.

Johnte Dawson, a native of Wilson, N.C., portrays one of the entitled, greedy stepchildren (Senator Titus Savage). The performing arts aficionado has relished his time on stage.

“You get to act and play at being someone else,” said Dawson, a first-year Minnesota West attendee, “and most importantly, you get to have a good time. I love singing and acting.”

Alyssa Reese, a Minnesota West student from Luverne, has served as stage manager for “The Curious Savage.”

“It’s been great getting to know everyone through the production, especially as their personalities come out with the show,” said Reese.

Johnson said directing the Minnesota West cast has been a useful introduction for her to some aspects of Worthington’s performing arts community.

“I’m new to town,” she said, adding that she is also teaching English at Worthington High School and previously directed shows in Phoenix, Ariz., where she and her husband Adam lived for the past eight years.

“The students are really motivated, committed and dedicated to the show and have worked really hard,” Johnson continued. “This has been a long time to work on a show, but they’ve progressed and gotten better and better with each rehearsal.

“And the set’s turned out really great, too.”

Credit for the set, which depicts a sophisticated living room painted in rich shades of blue, along with a French door, bookcase and piano, goes to another relative newcomer to Worthington — Bryan Maurer.

Maurer has the title of technical director for “The Curious Savage” and has spent this academic year as an instructor of music and music technology at Minnesota West, having earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree (in music composition and music education, respectively) at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

“My three-person crew — Nathan Olsem, Nathan Landwehr and Alyssa Reese — did the bulk of the set construction and painting,” attributed Maurer. “It’s been our labor of love, and Nathan Landwehr told me this week that he felt invested in the scenery and all the props — he’s also the prop manager.”

Olsem did the lighting design for “The Curious Savage.”

Maurer, a percussion and music technology specialist, said the new sound system at the theater made possible some “cool effects for the show,” including ringing, buzzing and some 1950s music to match the mood and time period of the comedy.

“People will enjoy the light-hearted comedy of the 1950s, which is this play’s setting — it was very contemporary at the time of its premier,” Maurer said. “The music played before and after the show has that fun, ‘50s flair, reflecting the golden age of rock’n’roll.”

If the enthusiasm and endorsement of the directors and students involved are any indication, “The Curious Savage” is sure to tickle a few funny bones and provide an evening of humorous entertainment.

“This show is quirky, funny and a little off-center,” said Reese. “If you need a really good laugh, you should come to this show.”

“The Curious Savage” will be performed on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Fine Arts Theatre on the Worthington campus of Minnesota West, 1450 College Way, Tickets are available at the door prior to each show time.