Mr. Marmalade

Life is tough. It’s really tough when you’re a kid. So many things you can’t do. You want to get out, be yourself, do…well, whatever it is that you want to do. But you just can’t. And sometimes there’s that great longing for something or someone to help you pass the time. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a sibling to beat on; or maybe two. But if you’re an only child, what are you going to do? Well, one option that’s always open is to invent an imaginary friend. It’s rare that they don’t do what you like, and rarer still when they don’t have time for you, right? Well, not if you’re Lucy. Her imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade, doesn’t have a whole lot of time. He’s busy. Very busy. So busy, in fact, that he’s an imaginary person who has to have an imaginary assistant to help him out.

This largely is the premise of the play by Noah Haidle. Oh, and then there’s the very seriously warped adult humor layered on top of the whole thing. For instance, kids like to play doctor. Lucy (Lauren B. Smith) likes to play doctor and we see her do so early on with the little brother (Larry–played by Tom Kondilas) of the baby-sitter’s foul-mouthed boyfriend. But when playing doctor Mr. Marmalade (Wes Shofner) likes to do things like…oh, have his prostate examined. (For those of you unfamiliar with this exam, it requires going through the backdoor, as it were.) But there’s much more. Mr. Marmalade carries a suit case filled with porn, dildos, and has some bad habits, including alcoholism, a cocaine addiction, and a proclivity for physically abusing his assistant. As you might imagine, Mr. Marmalade is quite a lot to deal with. Mr. Marmalade would be a lot to deal with for a 40-year-old, let alone a 4-year-old.

Lucy, though, is pretty good at handling Mr. Marmalade–at least during the five minute increments he actually attends her. When he’s not around, Lucy has some other things to deal with: her mother, Sookie (Lucy Bredeson-Smith) who works all day and goes out with a variety of men at night; and then there’s her over-sexed babysitter, Emily (Teresa McDonough) who only stops watching the television when her hard-ass boyfriend (Geoffrey Hoffman) stops by for a little sugar. Fortunately for Lucy, when the boyfriend stops by he brings along his little brother, as mentioned above, Larry. Larry has issues, too: for instance, he’s five years old and wants to kill himself. Pretty extreme for one so small, right? He doesn’t like to be touched either and is pretty stiff and reserved. But Lucy does a good job of breaking him out of this and soon they’re playing doctor like nobody’s business.

Time expands in Lucy’s imaginary realm and while the events (we discover at the end) all take place over the course of one night, the imaginary reality spreads them over days. Lucy and Larry sleep after their round of doctor and, when they wake, Lucy kicks Larry out. Mr. Marmalade’s assistant comes in, shocked by the infidelity he sees, he panics, and soon after we see the real Mr. Marmalade melt down in a fit of jealous rage. Lucy, though, is saved by Larry–who runs Mr. Marmalade off.

We then get to see the “relationship” between Lucy and Larry develop along predictable lines. The honeymoon ends quickly, then Larry is bringing home his buddies to eat dinner (without consulting “the wife” first), and then there’s that unwanted pregnancy. Soon, Larry is out on his ass and Mr. Marmalade is back in the picture. Sober, polite, and ‘saved,’ Mr. Marmalade is the picture of courtesy and romance–and more importantly–he is fully attentive to Lucy. But, alas, as with Larry, things just will not stay heavenly for good, and soon the romantic get-away to Mexico ends with a crying baby and Mr. Marmalade in a wife-beater swilling canned beer and swearing like a sailor.

In the end, Mr. Marmalade can’t take it, Lucy kills the baby, and Mr. Marmalade leaves.

Back in real time, Lucy’s mom, Sookie, comes home with Mr. Next-in-Line and the evening ends with Sookie pissed about the ketchup all over her neglige (which Lucy is wearing). But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel; the next day, as Sookie leaves for work, Larry comes over to ask Lucy if she’ll go outside and play dodge ball. After years inside sweltering with Mr. Marmalade and Lucy in their oppressive relationship the promise of playing ball outside is a glory indeed.

Mr. Marmalade is a pretty searing and terrible examination of the twisted relationships that adults often have. Of course, extreme light shines best to make the shading bearable for those of us who have twisted relationships that don’t quite go as far as Lucy’s with Mr. Marmalade, but the point ends up being the same. The petty demands, the squabbling, and the dis-satisfaction are all too familiar. The use of children as the play’s vehicle is, of course, darkly comic and adds to the fun and outrageous tone of the play, but it does wear thin after a while. The piece definitely requires the willful suspension of disbelief, but there are some nice highlights: for instance, when Larry brings home his boisterous friends (a flower and a cactus), they interrupt a dinner consisting of chocolate milk, cookies, and cheesy poofs. The whole dinner ends in a chaos of a food fight.

Arthur Grothe does a good job of directing the piece and keeping things moving. Lauren Smith is to be congratulated for the strong work she puts out there as the four-year-old Lucy. And Kondilas’ Larry is hilarious. The intensely romantic re-union scene between Marmalade and Lucy has the highlight of both Stuart and Geoffrey Hoffman greased-up, shiny, and slim as flamingo-dancing waiters prancing about. Sade Wolfkitten does a great job with the set and stage management and all the others do what they do best to make a convergence production what we’ve come to expect.

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