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Good As Gold

The Playgoer

By Larry Hartman

Good As Gold does not do much with the far too familiar idea of good-naturedly satirizing Washington, D.C. Making fun of cliches has its points, but in this case the play settles rather tediously into the quagmire of triteness that it tries to ridicule.

An ambitious young idealist comes to Washington with An Idea. A humanitarian botanist, he has developed a new kind of soil in which vegetables grow to enormous size. He merely needs a rather amusing ingredient. "I turn gold into dirt," he explains. And, not only as the central issue for a comedy, this is quite a pleasant idea.

Around this core, however, the play is built in a fairly routine way. Except for frequent trips in and out of a comfortable jail, the plot does not take the hero far. Nor need it. But the playwright might have steered clear of at least some of his many stock situations, which compete with abundant sets of uninspired lines in what seems to be a race for expectability. Even love rears its precious little head to add a tired touch of creeping sentimentality. And, regrettably, the author has felt satisfied with stocking the stage with a cast of cliches: the idealist; a shabby-willed congressman who needs an issue; his smug colleague in the other Party; two excessively stupid sleuths from the FBI; a secretary who needs romance; and an asthmatic lump of sex from the botanist's home town. The only mildly refreshing character in the Capital seems to be a likeable old rogue with a supply of bourbon in his hollow leg. He makes a useful foil for the hero, but they are both given a rather shallow stock of funny lines.

The situations are seldom better than the lines, being funny mainly when the action is slapstick--a plant suddenly sprouting in joyful abundance all over the stage is the most bearable example. But the author occasionally leaps out of his verbal rut to pierce a pet political balloon very neatly: "Senator Cotton Joe Somethingorother is in the hospital." "Disease serious?" "Senility." "Then how can he be chairman of our committee?" Seniority." But originality is not rampant even here. Nowhere in the play is the humor more than mildly reminiscent of author John Patrick's lighthearted previous creation, Teahouse of the August Moon.

The sets of Good as Gold, especially a mammoth picturesque scale at Fort Knox, are quite gay and appropriate. The acting is not disappointing, but it cannot help much. Roddy Macdowall handles most of what can be done with the hero's role with buoyant competence, and Zero Mostel is often very funny, bellowing enough in his role as the jolly rascal to cover up some of the obviousness of his speeches. The rest of the cast is also adequately adept, but nothing about the production is bright enough to make the evening more than a nearly-made-it comedy.

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