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The Theater: Kook in a Candy Store

2 minute read
T.E. Kalem



The role of the kook in American drama is rather like that of the circus freak. He or she represents nature gone awry, a creature of bizarre habits, obsessive appetites, crazy compulsions. The kook has no claim on our common humanity unless he can be made endearing in some way as, for example, Elwood P. Dowd was through his affection for his invisible companion, the 6-ft. rabbit, Harvey.

The kook should not be confused with the person who has become strange through violations of the heart or the cruelty of others, the kind of being warped by fate that we find compassionately rendered in the plays of Tennessee Williams. In The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and to a lesser extent in And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, Paul Zindel aroused the hope that he might be a playwright in the Williams mode, one who could cast a kindly light in the dark corners of twisted souls. That is precisely the hope dashed by his latest play, The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild. Here he is simply huckstering kookdom for cheap laughs, and not producing many of them at that.

The heroine of the title (Maureen Stapleton) is a movie freak. Not only has she seen 3,000 movies, but the walls of the back room of a Greenwich Village candy store in which she lives are lined with 40 years’ worth of movie mags. The room is also burdened with her diabetic husband Roy (Lee Wallace), who has a self-destructive mania for candy bars. To assume that the plot does not exist is merely to follow the playwright’s lead, but it is more difficult to avoid Mildred’s fantasy encounters with Shirley Temple, Gene Kelly and King Kong. These are as cute as quicksand and replete with campy posturing. Maureen Stapleton tries to enliven these proceedings with her patented brand of chicken-coop hysteria, which is itself fast becoming a theatrical hazard.

∎ T.E.K.

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