The Good, the Bad, and the Boring in Theater and Other Creative Arts Around and About Hampton Roads, VA.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mr. Marmalade: Neither Sweet Nor Tangy
            I wish I could blame it on second night. I’ve done enough theater to know that second night often has lead in its pants after the climax of opening the night before. So, as a member of the audience on second night, maybe I’m wrong to say that I don’t think Mr. Marmalade is a winner.
            Mr. Marmalade is the play (by Noah Haidle) that opened at the Generic Theater in Norfolk, VA, on Feb. 10. In the interests of full disclosure, I was cast to be in that play but decided to work on another project.
            I looked forward, though, to see what director Donna Dickerson and my almost-cast mates would do with it.
            But I’m not sure anyone could do much of anything with it. The script is not very clear. Or rather, it’s clear through muddy water.
            We know that Lucy, a four-year-old girl played by adult actor Celia Burnett, is isolated in her own imagination and in many ways victim of it. We catch on that her new little friend Larry, played by Andre Fedyszn, is her fragile connection to the outside world, and we see a thin ray of hope that she and Larry can be okay, somehow. Or not.
            But those are serious themes. So we have to wonder why Lucy’s mother—Sookie, played by Rene Finkenkeller—is a caricature, serving, perhaps some kind of broad satire. Similarly, the horny guy she brings home from the office one night (Brian Cebrian), Lucy’s uber-teen baby sitter Emily (Missy Hayes Mohr), her sleazy boy friend (Brian Cebrian again), and even Mr. Marmalade’s fey personal assistant Bradley (played by Dean J. Schaan)—they’re all caricatures, serving, perhaps, some kind of broad satire. But this undercuts any seriousness we might feel for Lucy’s situation. Or are we watching an R-rated cartoon?
            As a result, there is about Mr. Marmalade a kind of strange flatness where tragedy and comedy, realism and farce, almost cancel each other out while the deeper meaning of the play is more a thought than a feeling.
            The marvel to me is that this play has a production history going back to 2004, including a New York City run. A number of regional theaters have undertaken it.
            The Generic cast does its best, shifting with the currents as they swim their way from camp to sentimentality to boorish hostility to an imaginary Parisian cafe with live musicians playing “La Vie en Rose” as Lucy dances romantically with Mr. Marmalade (Christopher Kypros), the middle-aged, reformed alcohol-and-drug-addicted workaholic.
            It’s a lovely scene. But, as with most of the rest of the play, we just don’t know what to think. And that doesn’t move us very much.
            See for yourself. Mr. Marmalade runs Thurs.-Sun. through March 4 at the Generic Theater, Downunder at Chrysler Hall in downtown Norfolk. For reservations, call 757-441-2160.