Just seven years ago Hal and Cindy Savage were living out of suitcases and shuffling from one small Canadian outpost to another in their rusted-out vehicle to “star” in down home dinner theatre productions. Today, they are (drum roll!) Hal and Cindy Savage, spreading the gospel of “The Savage Way,” a guide to personal success and life altering changes.
“Out with the Doubt! Feast on the bread of success! The Battlefield is life and the soldier is you!”
Add an “amen brother” and you have the Savage philosophy, a direct on ramp to increased prosperity and decreased marital harmony in “Self Help,” the Norm Foster comedy at the Edge of the World Theatre.
The show opens with Hal (Jack Hamblin) and Cindy (Christina Buchen) dabbing on a last touch of make-up at the Moonglow Dinner Theater, on the outskirts of Flin Flon, Manitoba. The Savages are broke, they’re tired. And though Hal is still enamored with his mistress — the theatre-Cindy is ready for a change. And, a change they make.
The next scene, as spotlights spin and rock music blares, Hal and Cindy appear. Sequined vests, brilliant smiles, they smother the stage, and their followers, with their charisma, their energy, their larger than life message. They are the Savages. Like a synchronized spiritual revival, together they deliver a message so powerful, the audience is mesmerized, convinced that the “Savage Way” is the high road to happiness.
Unfortunately, offstage it seems the “Savage Way” has hit a dead end, literally. Cindy’s attempt to stray with their 60-year-old gardener, Andrew, ended badly. In the midst of passion, Andrew had a heart attack and the only thing still standing when Hal catches them is … well, you get the picture. Now, the problem is how do you get rid of a dead body with a handle when the maid, a reporter and a police officer are traipsing through your home?
As you can imagine, the opportunities for Foster, the Canadian Neil Simon, to showcase his warped sense of humor, sharp wit and walk on the wild and absurd side are endless. Hamblin and Buchen are no less opportunistic — playing off each other with perfect timing, and non-stop jabs. Panic stricken they have no idea what to do with the “fully sprouted naked gardener in their study.”
Then Ruby (Melanie Calderwood), their agent, arrives. Calderwood, usually seen in grey hair and ragged or frumpy clothes dresses up well. Stylishly dressed, she is every bit the worldly, hard-hitting, ambitious agent who’s not going to let a little dead body get in her way. Together they hatch a plan — bury him in the garden. “Better bury him deep,” one of them remarks, “or get some horseshoes.”
Also good are Kari Michelle, as the seemingly ditzy maid Bernice, Brian Vyrostek as the equally dim Detective Snow, and Rick Wright as Jeremy Cash, a reporter looking for a hot story.
Directed by Roger Kelley, the show flies. From the moment Ruby looks in the study, sees the gardener and asks Cindy, “Did you do that?” and Cindy replies, “I guess you could say that,” — you know where the humor in this show is headed. Add carting a body from one room to another, Bernice’s issues with the intercom, and Cindy and Hal’s uncontrollable re-ignited passion and you have enough humor to keep you smiling and laughing through the entire show.