Tony Sportiello's Wild Thing is an entertaining play with a dangerously wide sentimental streak. The 42nd St. Workshop performed it with energy and precision.
Madeline (Holly Hawkins) is in the hospital with bone splinters near her heart, the result of an auto accident. The splinters will almost certainly migrate and kill her. Enter major-league pitcher Joe Monroe (Tom Berdik), summoned by nurse (and Madeline's sister) Jenny (Dee Dee Friedman), in a sympathy visit (he is set upon by very ill children on his way in; he autographs baseballs with a will). (Though in other ways an outstanding pitcher, he got his name by throwing wild pitches, frequently hitting batters.) Other characters include Dr. Langston (Bill Tatum), the emergency- room attending physician who performed the initial act of triage that aggravated Madeline's condition (he ignored her until too late); Karen (Amelia Borella), Joe's rich-bitch girlfriend; George (Charles E. Gerber), Joe's weaselly agent; and the paternal Harrigan (Mack Harrell), owner of the Orioles, Joe's team. In the course of the play it is revealed (once by implication, and later as an anticlimactic revelation) that Jenny was responsible for Madeline's accident, because she was driving drunk; Jenny, sans passenger-side airbag, suffered the consequences. Joe misses a playoff game, costing his team a shot at the World Series, to be near Madeline during major surgery (which fails). After Joe ditches Karen, Madeline goes with him to his ski lodge in Canada to await death.
All gave energetic and precise performances. Except for Joe and Madeline, the characters don't offer much room for subtlety. Madeline gets all the best lines, and the arrows of her wit - which were especially effective when coupled with Hawkins's droll delivery - puncture the lachrymose clouds that threaten to shroud the play. Berdik lent Joe a boyish animation that raised his character above the overall level of the production. Gerber's greedy George was also effective comic relief. The pacing was brisk.
An outstanding vaudeville-of-the-absurd dream sequence enlivened things. The play ended in an unfortunate and unnecessary epilog, in which Joe explained what happened to everyone after the surgery.
The uncredited costumes, from Karen's slinky dresses to Joe's team jacket, underscored the characters. The set was a bed and a few other not especially suggestive pieces. Throughout most of the play, the flat front lighting did nothing to enhance the mood.
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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton