In our culture, children are usually considered innocent until sullied by the grown-up world. Otherwise, why would we have family-friendly TV programming, G-rated movies, and continual furor about â€œinappropriateâ€ books being taught in public schools? Noah Haidleâ€™s dark little comedy, Mr. Marmalade, brilliantly twists the preconception of childhood innocence into an inspired script.
We attended the final weekend of this just-closed, Capital T Theatre production at Hyde Park Theatre. Directed by Mark Pickell, the show deftly details the dark relationship between lonely four-year-old Lucy (Tiny Robinson) and her twisted imaginary friend, the title character Mr. Marmalade (David L. Bowers).
Frenetic and wired, the gifted Bowers rocked the stage. His riveting â€œMr. Mâ€ bounded around the small living-room set as the demanding, manic-depressive center of attention. In a parody of the grown-up world, Mr. Mâ€™s traumatized personal assistant Bradley schedules tea parties and play dates days in advance. Noah Neal gives a spot-on performance as the underling, in thrall to an abusive and volatile boss.
Neither Mr. M nor Bradley can be seen by the preoccupied adults in Lucyâ€™s life. Thatâ€™s good. With his briefcase full of illicit pick-me-ups and sex toys, Mr. M isnâ€™t the type of imaginary friend to reassure concerned parents. Then again, Lucyâ€™s mother (Annie Dragoo) isnâ€™t what youâ€™d call â€œconcernedâ€. Leaving for her date and deprived of a baby sitter, she asks wee Lucy to â€œhold down the fortâ€ â€˜til the sitter arrives. Thatâ€™s parenting in the world of Mr. Marmalade.
Between being left alone, and exposed to her motherâ€™s creepy dates the morning after, you wouldnâ€™t call Lucyâ€™s childhood exactlyâ€¦.childlike. Her humdrum life is enlivened by the mid-play appearance of five-year-old, petty criminal Larry (Chase Wooldridge)â€”the youngest-ever attempted suicide in New Jersey. After being dragged into the action as the babysitterâ€™s boyfriendâ€™s little brother, the morose Larry bonds with Lucy. Soon heâ€™s introducing her to his pals: a crazed Sunflower (Matt Hislope) and a wacky Cactus (Ash Bell) whose zippy performances as pottedâ€¦yet destructiveâ€¦party guests was a highlight of the show.
While Bowers’ Mr. M provided the playâ€™s pop and pizzazz, Robinson, constantly onstage, carried the intermission-free production. Her expressive face helped convey her take on the childish Lucyâ€”as well as the darker aspects of the play. â€œIf this is the carefree part of my life, I donâ€™t want to see the part that is supposed to be hard,â€ Lucy tells us. The play ends with the darker side of make-believe, complete with a marriage-gone-wrong scenario and Lucy ruining her motherâ€™s slip with blood, er, ketchup. Lucyâ€™s fantasy world can be a dark, dark place. Then again, so can the actual grown-up world.
While we were impressed with this engaging production, we noticed some sound issues. Most problematic were the lines setting up scenes, broadcast over the PA during set changes, which were identifiable only as a child talking, rather than as coherent sentences. However, playing the whistled introduction to Peter, Bjorn and Johnâ€™s summer hit â€œYoung Folksâ€ just before and after the show was a nice touch.
Weâ€™re sad if you missed the show because, just like its namesake condiment, this production of Mr. Marmalade was a bittersweet concoction that left a tangy and distinct impression. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Capital T Production, Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, coming in October to Hyde Park Theatre.