nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
November 23, 2005
Noah Haidle’s new comedy, Mr. Marmalade, has a lot going for it: good cast, good director, good production elements, and a good idea for a story. And Haidle himself is a fearless writer, full of energy, confidence, and invention, and a willingness to push the envelope. But, for all its good qualities, Mr. Marmalade suffers from an equally bad one: a glaring lack of logic. The result is a finished script that feels unpolished and not very well thought-out.
Four-year-old Lucy is a lonely child. Her father is out of the picture, her mother is always either working or out on a date, and her babysitter leaves Lucy to her own devices so she and her boyfriend can fool around in the upstairs bedroom. So Lucy invents an imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade, to keep her company. Unfortunately, real life seeps so much into her fantasy world that even Mr. Marmalade isn’t around much: he’s usually busy elsewhere, so he sends his assistant, Bradley, in his place. One day, Lucy meets a young boy from her suburban New Jersey neighborhood named Larry, and the two become fast friends. But when Mr. Marmalade learns of Lucy’s new friend, he becomes jealous and quickly re-appears to assert his presence.
There’s a lot of potential here, but Haidle overestimates his young protagonist’s mental capabilities, and fails to remember that all of Mr. Marmalade’s scenes take place inside her head. Thus, he expects the audience to believe that a four-year-old brain can create an imaginary friend who does all of the following (and there are some spoilers contained herewith, so if you don’t want to know too much about the show, skip over these bullets):
• snorts cocaine,
• pours beer on her in frustration,
• hits her,
• marries her, then takes her on a Mexican honeymoon,
• gets her pregnant, then leaves her,
• and, finally, commits suicide.
On top of all that, Haidle writes a scene late in the play where Lucy kills her own baby (offstage, thankfully) in order to ease Mr. Marmalade’s annoyance over the child’s wailing. Now, everyone knows that small children have active imaginations, but it’s hard to believe that any pre-schooler would be able to think up—or understand—a world this vivid, graphic, and dark.
Lucy also seems a bit too young to be interested in playing “Doctor.” Yet, in one scene, she convinces poor Larry to be “the patient,” making him strip to his underwear, and then puts her hand down his shorts and sticks it right on his privates. If Lucy were older—say, six or seven—this scene might seem plausible. But for the tender age of four, it rings false.
As for what Haidle seems to be saying with Mr. Marmalade…well, I couldn’t tell you. There is no discernible theme here, only a brash explosion of youthful brio on Haidle’s part.
The cast and the director give Mr. Marmalade their all. Michael Chernus, David Costabile, Mamie Gummer, Michael C. Hall, Pablo Schreiber, and Virginia Louise Smith all do good work here, and look like they’re having fun. (Gummer and Schreiber, both adult actors who play the young Lucy and Larry, seem to be having a particularly good time.) Director Michael Greif plays up Mr. Marmalade’s more distasteful and head-scratching elements for as many laughs as possible, without appearing to have any idea what Haidle’s message is either.
Because of its disregard for logic and plausibility, Mr. Marmalade is obviously the work of a novice playwright: one who might be very talented, whose development might’ve been helped immensely by working on this piece, and who we may yet see great things from. I hope so, because Mr. Marmalade feels to me like a script that would’ve been better left in Haidle’s desk drawer.