Dallas — For sure, a crazy old gal living her movie fantasies out in a crummy apartment above her husband’s failing candy store has got to be a hoot. Right? The whole block is scheduled for demolition, her diabetic husband stuffs himself on Milk Duds till he passes out, her landlady is after his dilapidated body anyway, and her sister-in-law calls poor Mildred Wild’s life situation as she sees it: “You’re old, you’re demented, you’re deluded,” she shouts. Everybody yells and whines a lot in this show.
Paul Zindel’s dark comedy The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild, which opened for a short run on Broadway in 1972, gets an energetic, if sometimes uneven, production at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. The show remains popular mostly in schools and community theaters chiefly because the female roles and costuming carry the weight of the production. The men are sort of standard accessories. Husband, butcher or talk show host, all the guys are chance tools grabbed up by the gals to enhance a romantic fantasy, crank a family feud or endure an embarrassing attempt to fuel a hopeless seduction with a vibrator.
Director Frank Latson pushes the two-hour show along efficiently enough, creating a smooth transition in and out of Mildred’s fantasy affairs with movie stars, featuring herself as Vivien Leigh or Ginger Rodgers, appropriately gowned and coiffed In Michael Robinson’s Hollywood finery, facing the music or descending the stairs. Mildred triumphantly escapes with Rhett Butler or Fred Astaire, leaving behind the wrecking ball waiting just outside her cluttered apartment, designed by Claire DeVries and papered in movie posters.
But between these fun scenes, the actors appear to be on their own, shifting from farce to melodrama at will, as they rush through some pedestrian arguments to get to the next punch line. Even then, the wonky details of Mildred’s existence are often more pitiful than funny. Her pet canary dies of arthritis and worms and she makes a pilgrimage to Stanton Island to bury it near the Vanderbilt mausoleum. Geez.
Pretty Marcia Carroll’s Mildred is greyhound-thin and razor-tongued as she defends her devotion to movies above every practical measure in her boring marriage. She’s most fun in her dream sequences, strutting her stuff in Michael Robinson’s feathery white satin gown or clinging fringed flapper dress. Carroll looks terrific in anything, which is one of the problems. Hard to believe this youthful, leggy glamourpuss is the sort of frumpy, old housewife stuck with a drab loser like Roy (a hangdog Scott Latham), a balding, slope-shouldered guy with a confused expression and a plaintiff voice. His ridiculous toupee makes him even more of a dope.
Marisa Diotalevi looks like dynamite in a purple St. John’s knitted suit and delivers her lines like a hard-nosed life coach as Helen, Mildred’s bossy sister-in-law. She even does a fantasy Judy Garland with atta-girl attitude. In one of the most telling scenes in the show, Helen challenges Mildred to explain her brainless devotion to movies. Pushed to a pouting honesty, Mildred says in a pleading Bronx accent, “They tell me what to do; they help me work things out.” What else does the poor woman have?
Lorna Woodford is exuberant and pushy as Miss Manley, the strident landlady with a yen for Roy, although why anyone would maker a pass at Roy, who barely rises above cake ingredients in his portrayal of a hapless hubby, is unclear.
The crowded plot includes a nun with real estate ambitions (smiling, chatty Stefany Cambra), a nosey TV crew, and a determined musical finale that keeps insisting this is one wild and crazy comedy. The whole cast gets tossed into the fantasy and the small stage at CTD was truly rocking to the desperate beat.