By Kristin Salaky
It’s not too many times in your life you watch an imaginary businessman do a line of cocaine off of a child’s tea set.
But that’s just one of the unexpected moments in Ohio University School of Theater’s first main stage production of the year, Mr. Marmalade. The show’s main characters may be children, but they have very grown up problems like abuse, sex and drug addiction.
The show opens on a gorgeous set, designed to look like a living room and play room through the eyes of a child. There are crazy colors, a tea set and countless toys scattered around the of the stage’s front white picket fence.
The child in question is 4-year-old Lucy (Emma Safford) who dons a wild outfit truly fit for a child complete with tutu and bright yellow rain boots.
Lucy and her imaginary friend, who also seems to be her pseudo husband, Mr. Marmalade are on the rocks because he is much too busy with his job to spend time with her. He even has to have his effeminate personal assistant, Bradley (Matt Van Slyke) schedule play dates with her.
She then “bonds” with her boy-crazed jersey shore-esque babysitter (Becky Markert) and meets her borderline misogynistic, jock boyfriend (Andy Scott) who escapes to the bedroom for a majority of the show. The pair was for me, the most genuine comic relief and though they were meant to be older, seemed the most childlike.
Lucy also meets Larry, (Greg Atkin) who dons a cowboy outfit and has a hysterical prepubescent voice, which is in stark contrast to his actions. He is the youngest suicide attempt in New Jersey, but somehow makes his character more comical than downright depressing describing how amazing his funeral is going to be as if he were discussing his upcoming birthday party.
The show uses childhood games such as playing “doctor” and “house” to stand for sex and marriage and shows the skewed view that the children have on the subjects.
The rest of the play follows Lucy’s tumultuous relationships and breakups between Mr. Marmalade, Larry and his imaginary friends, a cactus (Scott) and a sunflower (Krista Cickovis) that inspire a violent food fight, one of the play’s more comic moments.
Each scene is labeled using an overhead chalkboard so that the audience knows what to expect, which is especially helpful in one of the play’s final scenes, one labeled to be uncomfortable for the squeamish.
Throughout the play the lines of truth and imagination are blurred to the point where they are almost indistinguishable, which begs the question, who decides what’s real? The imaginary characters begin to repeat phrases said earlier by real characters and stories start to parallel. The audience is left to decide if these are simply the manic thoughts of a lonely little girl, a repressed memory of her visibly absent father, or both.
The actors, though most are playing children, handle these extreme personalities of both child-like innocence and moments of intense adult situations extremely well. For every moment the audience expected the play to delve into something almost too intense, the actors reclaimed control of the emotions. One has to wonder though, is this intended to be a dark comedy as it is labeled? The audience seemed to do far more gasping and stunned silence than laughing.
If it seems as if I have varying emotions about the play, you’ve guessed right. The entire thing was a roller coaster ride of emotions and I was left confused on how to feel. One thing is for sure, I definitely thought about the play for some time after wards and if that was the intention, bravo. Overall, the message of the play is a powerful one, no matter what age you are, life can be hard and problems can stick with you. It’s like the show’s pseudo-hero, Larry said, “If this is the carefree part of my life, then I don't want to see the part of my life that's supposed to be hard.”
Mr. Marmalade plays thru Saturday, October 13 at the The Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater in Kantner Hall. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $7 for seniors and non-OU students. OU students are admitted free.
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Photo of Emma Safford. Credit Abigail S. Fisher