The way Iremember it, pretending to be an adult was much more fun than actually being one. That’s not the case for the youngsters of Noah Haidle’s Mr. Marmalade (who are, admittedly, much more worldly than the tots of yesteryear), but their trials are certainly entertaining to watch. Most of the time.
Our protagonist, Lucy, is the 4-year-old daughter of an oft-absent single mother, and in AtticRep’s production her world is bright pink and fuchsia, accented by gargantuan children’s paintings so intensely lit they resemble lightboxes more than canvases (recalling the great hanging photographs in Rep’s production of Fat Pig — Nick Johnson and Martha Penaranda, resident light and scenic designers, respectively, have developed a pleasantly recognizable style). Lucy’s significantly older, imaginary (boy)friend, Mr. Marmalade (Roy Eric Gonzalez), and his much-abused assistant, Bradley (E.J. Roberts), appear and disappear through the walls of the living/playroom via taut, stretchy fabric which conceals the fantastical exit.
But Mr. Marmalade doesn’t frequent Lucy’s home often (though more than her non-existent father). You see he’s a very important, very busy, businessman. He’s also a bipolar, sextoy-toting coke addict. But what are you gonna do? You can’t choose whom you love — or so they say. Still, Lucy spends more time with Bradley (who radiates a Colin Hanks-ishness, incidentally), goodheartedly switching between P.A. and babysitter.
Eva Laporte affects a girlish squeal that will probably remind a few audience members of their least favorite, overly-youthful, too-cheery barista. In other words, her pitch is perfect. In fact, Laporte is so convincing in the role that when Mr. Marmalade raunchily drops trou and requests a game of doctor comprising a prostate exam, it really is quite shocking.
Several of the shocking scenarios Lucy imagines for herself and Mr. Marmalade would seem to have been derived from television, that electronic babysitter — but the set’s TV is small, and never on. Which leads one to wonder whether Lucy isn’t living a kind of warped version of her parents’ breakup.
The only real friend who enters her life — at least during the course of the show, which as far as I can tell, spans a single day — is Larry (Fred Parker), a suicidal 5-year-old with whom she has an on-and-off relationship, and upon whom she performs a “heart transplant” in a brilliantly hilarious scene.
Larry is not without imaginary friends himself: two comical, southern-drawling potted plants (Vincent Goodwin and Valerie Cortinas, in multiple roles here) ruin his and Lucy’s game of house.
Tim Hedgepeth’s astute direction cannot save the play from it’s own minor shortcomings (ill-developed secondary characters and some trite humor), but on the whole Mr. Marmalade is a refreshing piece of work, whose main character’s lifetime-of-experience-in-24-hours story arc reminded me of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence: To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.
Mr. Marmalade is about 85 minutes and intermission-free. Just the way I like it. •THEATER
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