|Scott Walker as Mr. Marmalade and Jayne Furlong as Lucy|
By Tina Arth
An almost empty stage, with white drapery along the walls and covering a few pieces of furniture, creates a dreamlike setting for Twilight Theater Company’s current offering, Mr. Marmalade. The next two hours deliver an amazing combination of satire, horror, comedy, surrealism, fantasy, violence - even love. Playwright Noah Haidle’s 2004 work about the harsh realities and vivid fantasies of a disturbed four-year-old girl delivers a thought-provoking take on the world as it might look if unfiltered by the loving support of responsible adults. Director Jo Strom Lane has attracted a solid cast and given them the guidance they need to fully realize the potential of an odd, but compelling, script.
The show revolves around two very screwed up kids. There’s young Lucy, who is being raised by Sookie, her emotionally, and frequently physically, unavailable mom. Additional minimal supervision is provided by a hormone-riddled babysitter Emily, who spends more time in the bedroom with her boyfriend George than she does with Lucy. Lucy’s world revolves around her real babysitter (the television) and a couple of quite corporeal imaginary friends, Mr. Marmalade and his long-suffering assistant, Bradley. Conflict arises in Lucy’s world when she makes an actual friend, five-year-old Larry, who proudly proclaims that he is the youngest child in New Jersey to attempt suicide. Mr. Marmalade, who seems like a fifties’ sitcom dad at first, is unwilling to share Lucy’s attentions with a real friend. As the show progresses it is clear that Mr. Marmalade is not filling the role of an absentee father, but rather a warped love interest. Lucy’s reality has been shaped by Law and Order style dramas and sitcoms about dysfunctional families (the theme songs and emblematic recliner from Married With Children and All In the Family ensure that the audience will catch this point). Mr. Marmalade makes the transition from a Ward Cleaver to an Al Bundy, and after an unfortunate incident with Larry’s (much more benign) imaginary friends, Lucy sends her young friend away, choosing to inhabit Mr. Marmalade’s bizarre imaginary world filled with violence, cocaine, and pornography. Trust me – it’s a lot more fun than it sounds, and some truly cringe-worthy moments are leavened by really funny physical comedy and the pleasure of watching a group of extraordinary actors ply their craft.
Jayne Furlong is hilarious, touching, and sometimes maddening as the tutu-clad Lucy. It’s not easy for an adult to play a four-year-old, especially a precocious one like Lucy who shifts without notice in and out of her fantasy world. Furlong pulls off the voice, diction, clumsiness, and pathos so consistently that we easily forget that she is not a tot. Jay Dressler (“Larry”) is her perfect counterpart – serious, lonely, intense, but somehow still only five. The biggest casting coup may be Scott Walker (“Mr. Marmalade”) – he is old enough to be paternal, attractive enough to justify Lucy’s love fantasies, and makes a smooth transition from buttoned down busy executive to a coke-snorting low-life whose “wife-beater” undershirt accurately reflects the abusive side that fully emerges as the play develops.
Special notice is due to costume designer Amanda Ryan, particularly for the thoroughly childish apparel that helps us define Furlong’s character and provides light notes to brighten a frequently dark script.
Director Jo Strom Lane is continuing Twilight’s recent trend toward challenging, thought-provoking theater that entertains in the moment but lurks in the mind long after the stage goes dark. Mr. Marmalade is not standard fare for local theaters, so theater lovers who miss this production may be permanently out of luck. Because of mature themes and language, the show is not appropriate for younger audiences.
Twilight Theater Company’s Mr. Marmalade is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Saturday, August 6th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday. There will also be an 8:00 performance on Thursday, August 4th, and a matinee at 3 P.M. on Sunday, July 31st.