THE SECRET AFFAIRS OF MILDRED WILD

Douglas Anderson School of the Arts opened a zany comedy by the late Pulitzer Prize winning author Paul Zindel on September 25, 2014. The play will continue with productions on October 2 – 4 at 7:00 pm in the Black Box Theatre on the school’s Southside campus.The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild” debuted on Broadway in 1972, some 42 years ago. While it lasted only briefly in the Big Apple, it has been a surprisingly successful play, especially popular with high schools and colleges, and is still done frequently throughout the country.

When viewing this play, it pays to remember that playwright Zindel’s unique body of work is filled with many young adult books: titles include “My Darling, My Hamburger” and “Confessions of a Teenage Baboon.” Zindel’s biggest success was his first play, “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds,” which was first staged in 1964, and awarded the Pulitzer prize for drama in 1971.

As critics, we always look forward to DASOTA productions in their smaller theatre. It is always a surprise to see how this space has been configured. It is also exciting to watch a new contingent of actors and technicians who have the talents required to become influential in the local community theatre scene – and beyond – in future years.

In a modest upstairs apartment in New York, we meet the two leading characters. Mildred Wild is a movie fanatic, who has seen over 3,000 films. She spends her time watching films on TV or at the neighborhood theatre. The secret affairs of the title involve the fantasy worlds into which she retreats when faced with daily problems. We recognize her as Scarlett in full costume in “Gone with the Wind,” as Fred Astaire‘s dancing partner, and even as King Kong‘s captive. Lexis Willis expertly plays this demanding role with a frantic energy. Her toupee-wearing husband Roy (Julian Robertson in a fine performance,) runs a candy store downstairs in the dilapidated building they call home, and despite his poor treatment by Mildred, has put up with her distorted outlook on life for almost thirty years.

One of the reasons this play is so popular are the other over-the-top characters. Helen Wild is Roy’s sister, and as played by Emily Horan comes across as demanding and unkind, but looking deeper, she shows she really does have compassion for this couple, as she pays much of their rent and brings them food from her job.

Anthony Wooten is the local butcher, and Mildred’s movie-going friend. He has one of the best written parts, and makes the most of it, appearing in Mildred’s fantasies as Prissy in “Gone with the Wind,” and as a roaring twenties flapper, an African warrior, and a gay TV show producer.

Mildred’s other obsession is TV contests; she sends hundreds of entry postcards to “Hollywood Matinee” program hosts Warren (Aarin Pough) and Evelyn (Mia McNair), and she wins the coveted title of “Miss Hollywood Magazine” for the day. Her prizes include a plane ticket for a Hollywood screen test and several appliances are delivered by Miss Manley (Sheroya Sewell) and Rex Bulby (Jalen Roark). Unfortunately, the prizes are of dubious value.

One of the most dramatic scenes occurs at the end of Act I, when the giant hand of King Kong crashes through a brick wall to capture Mildred.

The Wilds have other problems. Their landlady, Kayla Le, played by the very animated Bertha Gale, tells them they must move, as the building is going to be demolished. A demure and kindly nun, Sister Cecilia, performed by Ashlei Heffernan, arranges for them to move to a nearby convent, where they will be the on-site managers. Rounding out the cast is Preston Pittman in cameo roles as the Invisible Man and a construction worker.

In Act ll, this play turns into a mini-musical as all the cast members sing and dance to “Baby, Take a Bow,” one of Shirley Temple’s hit songs. The production number was a delightful surprise. Kevin Covert from the Musical Theatre program choreographed the dance.

The apartment setting was picture perfect with a somewhat shabby kitchen, bedroom, and living room. This intimate space had us feeing we were truly an invited guest. Technically, this show was impressive. High above the stage, Video Head Michael Bui projected footage of the vintage films that made Mildred’s fantasy life come alive for the audience. Sound Head Trenton Ashburn provided audio from the TV set that Mildred constantly turned on and off.

The Costume Crew created the eye popping costumes that included, among other effects, red satin wrappers, feather boas, and dresses inspired by those worn by a very young Shirley Temple.

“The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild” was directed by Bonnie Harrison, with Samantha Jones and MacKenzy Clyne as Assistant Directors, and Nicole Searcy as Technical Director. The production included over forty students as crew members for lights, paint, deck, costumes and props.

This unusual show has many surprises and laughs with wacky characters, excellent costumes, and a fine set, and is as well an excellent example of creative technical theatre. For additional information, visit www.da-arts.org.

Coming up next for DASOTA is the Tony-nominated musical “Violet” on November 20,21, 22 on the main stage. The musical recently closed on Broadway, and the November production will be the North Florida premiere.

 

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.
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