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New SoHi play offers escape from ordinary

Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2004

A domestically challenged housewife with an overactive imagination, a henpecked husband embarrassed about his bald spot, a fancy dessert seldom made in Alaska, a nun with a taste for drambuie and a gigantic ape.

While the plot of "The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild" is more complicated than this description, it does sum up some of the comedic highlights, as well as some of the random interludes that make up this play.

The Soldotna High School drama department is staging the comedy, by Paul Zindel, this weekend in the SoHi theater. The play is set in an apartment behind a run-down candy store in Greenwich Village, New York City, that Mildred Wild and her husband, Roy, own and operate.

Business is not good, however. Roy suffers from diabetes aggravated by eating his sugary merchandise, and Mildred has been more interested in watching TV and reading her Hollywood magazines than helping out in the store. The business is going under, the Wilds have been depending on Roy's bossy sister to pay their rent and their building is condemned, meaning Roy and Mildred soon will be out on the street.

Rather than facing the reality of her impending homelessness and disintegrating marriage, Mildred occupies herself with dreaming of movie stars , entering Hollywood trivia contests and going out to movies.

Whenever she goes to sleep or wants to escape from the challenges of her life, Mildred drifts into dreams and becomes a movie star herself, fighting off the sinister Invisible Man and being swept off her feet by the handsome and debonair Rhett Butler or the large and hairy King Kong.

These dream sequences offer a departure in mood from the sharp dialogue of the rest of the script. The interaction between the characters is laden with witty barbs and caustic sarcasm for each other but the mood of the dream sequences is hammed-up physical humor.

 

Mildred Wild answers a call from a Hollywood trivia contest while her husband, Roy, played by Clyde Folley, listens.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

"It's not a drop dead, fall over comedy," said director Mike Druce. "It doesn't depend on the same kind of timing where you tell a joke and wait for a laugh kind of thing. It's a gentle comedy."

Even though "The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild" is first and foremost a comedy, it has more substance to it than the characters verbally abusing each other.

"I like the story," Druce said. "Even though it's a comedy it's kind of a poignant comedy. I think it has good things to say about relationships."

The cast has been rehearsing the show for about six weeks. Many of the actors have been in other shows together so they are comfortable with each other. Druce said he chose to do this play in part because of the group of students he had to be in it.

"This is a good cast," he said. "That's the great part, when you see it all come together. It's not about one person, it's a collective effort and that's what's fun about it."

Though the characters' personalities differ greatly from each other, the cast had some common challenges to face, including tackling numerous costume changes, mastering some dance moves and learning a New York accent.

"The first time I started one I had everyone in tears," said Bets Pindras, who plays Roy Wild's bossy sister, Helen Wild. "I was afraid it was because they were laughing at me (because it was bad)."

 

Clyde Folley and Amy Shoemaker play Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in Midred Wild's dream of "Gone With The Wind."

Photo by Jenny Neyman

Another challenge for the actors was getting into their characters especially since many of them are a few chips short of a whole cookie.

"(I was) trying to figure out how to be a corrupted nun but not trying to look corrupted," said Sierra Williams, who plays Sister Cecilia a nun looking for caretakers of a defunct convent that will play along with a tax evasion scheme.

Amy Shoemaker plays Mildred Wild.

"She's just this wacky character who doesn't get it a lot but she's been fun to play," Shoemaker said.

And then there's the Charlotte russes. The script called for Roy Wild to be constantly whipping up a batch of the popular New York dessert, but no one at SoHi had heard of them before, so the actors weren't sure how to fake making them convincingly. The students scoured cookbooks and asked bakery employees if they'd ever heard of a Charlotte russe.

"They said 'I don't think she works here,'" Shoemaker said.

The special effects in the show took a group effort of the cast, crew and SoHi's shop and art departments to pull off, with Bill Carlson as the special effects designer.

Druce has directed this play twice before, though never at SoHi, and wanted this production to top the others in terms of effects.

"I've been fascinated by the idea that you have people who could do these kinds of things," Druce said. "... I think the audience will be very, very surprised."

SoHi's last several productions were ones Druce wrote himself. He said he was considering writing something like "The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild" for the spring play but decided to just stage this one instead. Though writing your own play offers more flexibility for the director, it can be difficult for the actors.

"It's gratifying when you see your own work on stage, but there also are a lot of problems with it because you're testing it out all the time and that's hard for the actors," he said.

Not having to contend with last-minute script changes gives the actors more time to hone their performances and practice keeping a straight face.

"We're always laughing (during rehearsals)," said Zori Wallace-Keck, who plays a representative from a contest Mildred enters, "I hope everyone else enjoys it."

Shoemaker is sure audiences will.

"If the script doesn't get them, King Kong will get them," she said.

"The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday. Admission is $5 at the door.



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