THEATER REVIEW: ‘MR. MARMALADE’ Ivy Tech play depicts 4-year-old girl with a disturbing adult reality

From The Herald Times Arts & Entertainment section
Posted: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 12:00 am
By Matthew Waterman HT Reviewer

Noah Haidle’s “Mr. Marmalade” follows Lucy, a 4-year-old girl whose mother goes out for the evening, leaving her with only imaginary friends to keep her company. There are tea parties, candies, dolls, make-believe games and other girlish charms about.

But before you decide to bring your kids, I should mention: There’s also domestic violence, cocaine addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, misogyny, infanticide, pornography, suicide and, of course, a healthy dose of profanity.

Ivy Tech Student Productions presents “Mr. Marmalade” in the compact Rose Firebay. Paul Daily directed this 2004 dark comedy by Noah Haidle, a promising young American playwright.

Lucy (Sarah McGrath) hasn’t started school yet, so she’s accustomed to being alone. Her mother, Sookie (Rhianna C. Jones), hires a teen babysitter to look after Lucy while she’s out on a date. The babysitter, Emily (Marilyn White), isn’t quite as patient with Lucy’s imaginary friends as Sookie typically is.

Lucy’s imaginary boyfriend is Mr. Marmalade himself (Danny Woods), a suave career type who seems to be drifting away as he works longer and longer hours at the office. Due to Mr. Marmalade’s very demanding job, he often sends his assistant, Bradley (Connor Blankenship), to visit Lucy instead of coming in person.

As Lucy begins to suspect Mr. Marmalade of cheating on her and of physically abusing Bradley, she meets someone new; someone who seems slightly more real to us, although Lucy doesn’t seem to know the difference. It’s Larry (Evan Pritchard), the 5-year-old brother of Emily’s boyfriend George.

When George (Isaac Newsom) comes over for some alone time with Emily (Lucy understanding all too well what this means), he has no choice but to bring Larry along. Larry, the youngest suicide attempt in the history of New Jersey, needs careful supervision.

Over the course of 90 minutes, we watch Lucy navigate the disturbingly adult world of her imagination. It’s not hard to see why Lucy’s mind is so twisted, though; even her reality is disturbingly adult.

“Mr. Marmalade” isn’t as hard to watch as it might sound; the most grotesque events of the play happen offstage. Still, this is a comedy that will push you to, or maybe even past, the boundaries of what you consider laughable.

Sarah McGrath leads brilliantly and energetically as Lucy. McGrath’s focus and innocence are essential to this show, in which she spends virtually the whole duration onstage.

The rest of the cast (composed of IU and Ivy Tech student actors) gives fine supporting performances. In Friday night’s opening show, here and there, actors blew past a few of Haidle’s sick jokes. Nonetheless, it’s still a hilarious show.

Benny Sully and Marilyn White are fun to watch as Cactus and Sunflower, Larry’s imaginary friends and just about the rowdiest pair of plants you’ll ever see.

David Wade’s set design for “Mr. Marmalade” is tacky, garish and cheap; in other words, perfect for the show. The hot pink carpet and cardboard furniture are entirely appropriate, as are Lily Walls’ diverse costumes.

Haidle has written an unsettling and sidesplitting script with a good amount of depth. Haidle smartly and entertainingly dramatizes the way in which contemporary culture forces young children, girls in particular, to confront the horrifying worlds of sex, drugs and violence at an obscenely young age.

“Mr. Marmalade” clearly isn’t for everyone. Viewers seeking a lighthearted romp through the innocence of childhood will be shocked and disappointed. “Mr. Marmalade” is for those seeking a twisted, wacky and unpretentious depiction of early onset adulthood in all its ugliness.

If you go

WHO: Ivy Tech Student Productions.

WHAT: “Mr. Marmalade” by Noah Haidle.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.

WHERE: Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, 122 S. Walnut St., Bloomington.

MORE: Tickets are $15, $5 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, visit www.bctboxoffice.com.

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