‘Mr. Marmalade’ makes up thought-provoking first play of HJT season

by Sarah McCarthy

If you’re already planning on going to see “Mr. Marmalade,” stop reading. The main thing the actual script has to recommend it is its shock value, and if you already know the plot, the play will be far less thought-provoking than if you go without any expectations.

Likewise, don’t go to the show expecting to laugh. The play sounds as if it might be amusing and precious: its main character is, after all, a four-year-old who likes to act like a grown-up. The laughs, however, are few and far between. Really, “Mr. Marmalade” is a familiar story: that of a woman with low self-esteem in an abusive relationship who, eventually, finds new friends and moves on. The only difference in this case is that the woman is a four-year-old and her abuser is an imaginary friend.

Though the script itself grows wearisome in places, the performances and direction in this production make it well worth seeing. Becca Cox is convincingly child-like as Lucy, the lonely four-year-old who likes to play house but is also well acquainted with drunken fights, cocaine use and abortion. Peter Richards gives an outstanding performance as Larry, her friend, a disturbed child who has to repeat pre-school because he both committed “petty larceny” (his words) and attempted suicide. The two “child” actors do an excellent job of not falling back on gimmicky tricks to portray their characters. Teri Swartz likewise does an excellent job as Lucy’s less-than-ideal babysitter. Her character adds the most levity to the play, while also serving to at least partly explain where Lucy gets her adult mannerisms and ideas. Rohan Flinn and Tyler Kent both have challenging roles as Mr. Marmalade and Mr. Marmalade’s assistant Bradley, respectively. It would be a foolish criticism to say that either of these characters doesn’t actually come to life as “real”: they aren’t real, they aren’t supposed to be real, they are, in fact, nothing but a confused child’s perception of what the adult world is like. Flinn rises to the unique acting challenge of playing a caricature and a cliché. He is in one scene the cliché romantic boyfriend, in the next, the cliché deadbeat dad. Kent likewise does good work with Bradley, despite the fact that the script itself seems unable to justify the existence of the character. Larry already fills the role of someone with whom Lucy can commiserate about Mr. Marmalade’s cruelty: Bradley thus does little except emphasize Mr. Marmalade’s cruelty and allow for a few laughs when he tells Lucy that “Mr. Marmalade’s too busy to see her.” A highlight moment of the play, however, is hearing Kent’s lovely tenor voice when he, Heath Saunders and Mark Kennedy play a serenade for Lucy.

Perhaps the most telling line of the production is when Larry says dejectedly to Lucy, “If this is the part of my life that’s supposed to be so easy then I don’t want to stick around for the part that’s hard.” The play’s most important value is in the reminder that even very young children are not immune from misery when they live in a miserable world.