Having an imaginary friend is all fun and games…until it becomes a twisted dark comedy that tickles your funny bone in a most inappropriate fashion. Continuing down the dark and winding path of their current season: “Feed Your Obsession” the Stillpointe Theatre Initiative welcomes a warped comedy to the stage this spring. Noah Haidle’s Mr. Marmalade makes its Baltimore area debut (it was produced at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in 2006) for a three week engagement with sickening humor that twists the notions of childhood imaginations into terrifying things. Directed by Johanna Gruenhut, this hour long engagement of the stage will have you rolling along just as soon as you feel comfortable enough to laugh.
Juxtaposing harsh adult themes against the naivette of childhood is a unifying thread in this production. Providing spectacular outfits that fit this theme is Costume Designer Anna Tringali. Keeping Lucy looking like a four-year old in her bright pink tutu and star-patterned shirt is the perfect distracting retainer for the biting adult themes that flow from her text. The crisp pressed suits for Mr. Marmalade and Bradley further the opposing forces that charge this play. Tringali gets to express creative fantasy with the costumes provided for Larry’s imaginary friends as well, using vibrant imaginative colors and silly little accents to hone in on the fact that they are plants.
Creating a fantasy playground from the recesses of a child’s mind is one concept, but to blur the lines of that existence into a functioning reality is the creative genius of Set Designer Ryan Michael Haase hard at work. Becoming a vivid landscape that panders to both the living functionality of Lucy and her mother’s home, as well as the inner workings of Lucy’s wild imagination; Haase’s set is remarkable both visually and with its hidden quirks. Sliding panels, hidden compartments, the magical mystery makes the set as fascinating as the characters who play upon it; a creative gem twinkling in the treasures of this production.
Playwright Noah Haidle creates a subtle sociological statement in his dark comedy; a hinted commentary of the modern child and how fantasies of imaginary friends have changed drastically due to the nature of hyper-present media, television and desensitization in violence and acceptable human behavior on the whole. Sharply witty, filled with moments of striking surprise that are darkly humorous but also push the envelope of acceptable. If played out with human adults rather than children and imaginary friends the play would be much more unacceptable but the innocence of juxtaposing these mature themes against the ignorance of children makes it curiously entertaining.
In a short production played out in an intimate space double and triple casting can become quite tricky but for Mike Smith and Nancy Bannon, who play three different roles respectively, it’s child’s play. Bannon takes on the role of neglectful mother, but manages to infuse this loathsome character with hints of caring in the way she delivers certain lines. Her ability to create distinctive choices between the mother, the babysitter character, and her cameo appearance as imaginary plant friend is impressive. Smith creates similar distinctions between his vile existence of George, his polite, albeit nervous, Bob and his quirky hilarious portrayal of Cactus.
Taking on the role of the crisp and polished personal assistant to the title character is Scott Gaines as Bradley. Using a stern but calm voice as the adult who provides structure in Lucy’s fantasy, Gaines’ portrayal is both familiar and strange, blending reality with imagination in a truly unique fashion. It’s his singing voice that stands out even if it is only used momentarily throughout the production.
Mr. Marmalade (Charles D. Long) is a dynamically difficult character to comprehend, particularly once it is actualized that he is all in Lucy’s head. Long has moments of intense violent outbursts that juxtapose quite creepily against his tender doting nature. Larry (Jonathan Jacobs) brings a similarly layered character to the play; his suicidal depression blending in a most unusual manner with his instant infatuation with Lucy. Long and Jacobs only have a brief interaction but it’s a powder keg of an experience between them. Jacobs’ low-key nature helps to focus the humor of his character, especially during awkwardly intimate scenes with Lucy.
Lucy (Kelsey Painter) is an enigmatic anomaly. Painter finds the perfect balance between her character’s impetuous and tempestuous youth and the grown up words with which the text has provided her. The physical way in which Painter makes her character a four-year-old toddler is stunning; creating the illusion of true childlike innocence in her body while maintaining the reality of an adult. These two opposing forces; naïve childlike behavior with adult text, are a bubbling mixture that Painter transforms into a fascinating portrayal of the work.
Mr. Marmalade is dark and twisted and well-worth seeing. It’s a little something t make you chuckle and gasp-an edgy new production that will keep you involved from start to finish.
Running Time: Approximately one hours, with no intermission.
Mr. Marmalade plays through March 29, 2014 through The Stillpointe Theatre Initiative at The Strand Theater— 1823 North Charles Street in Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.