Staged reading depicts disturbing environment through childhood fantasy

The second student-directed staged reading of the semester—Noah Haidle’s “Mr. Marmalade”—took place on Thursday Oct. 1 in the Sinclair Theater in Brodie Hall. Directed by junior Joshua Shabshis, this play illustrated a more mature take on a child’s imaginary friend. The staged reading was narrated by junior Chase Watkins and starred senior Samantha Clowes as the protagonist Lucy. Lucy is an oddly mature 4-year-old who lives with her single mother Sookie—played by sophomore Lilli Rudolf.

In the beginning, Lucy’s only comfort comes from her imaginary friends Mr. Marmalade—played by junior Oliver Diaz—and his humble assistant Bradley—portrayed by junior James Cooper. Mr. Marmalade is not your average imaginary friend; he is a hard-working businessman who never seems to have enough time for Lucy. He also has a hobby of abusing Bradley.

After Lucy’s mother leaves for the night, Lucy is left with careless and irresponsible babysitter Emily—played by junior Jessica Beneway—who invites her boyfriend George—played by senior Nolan Parker—over in the middle of the night. Lucy’s lack of adequate attention allows her imagination to run wild again, which causes Bradley to come pay her a visit. With the presence of these imaginary friends, it seems as if no one in the real world will truly connect with Lucy—that is, until Larry walks into her life.

Played by sophomore Clayton Smith, Larry is a 5-year-old who, like Lucy, seems a little out of the ordinary. Due to their uniqueness, he and Lucy become fast friends as they bond and play classic childhood games together. Larry eventually becomes a replacement for Mr. Marmalade, who never seems to be around. Lucy’s imagination resurfaces again, however, just as she begins to enjoy life without the distraction of Mr. Marmalade and Bradley.

Mr. Marmalade returns to Lucy’s mind and he gets into a jealous rage. He no longer cares about her. He is now addicted to pornography and cocaine—strange concepts for 4-year-old to imagine.

Even though it seems odd for Lucy to envision her imaginary friend as a sex and drug addict, it all makes sense when Lucy’s visions are brought back to the overall meaning of the play. Essentially, the story represents Lucy’s attempt to come to terms with the different influences surrounding her.

Haidle attempted to shed light on the sensitivity of a child’s innocence and ever-expanding mind through this piece. Haidle has had his plays staged at many theaters around the country, such as Lincoln Center and South Coast Repertory. Many of his plays revolve around controversial topics with an angle of dark humor. “Mr. Marmalade” is a great demonstration of that description.

In fact, Haidle’s intentions for the play were the focus of discussion for Shabshis and the cast during the talkback portion of the staged reading. “[The play] is super complicated—there are many layers about how children are so affected by the media,” Shabshis said. Lucy’s perception of the world around her influenced her imagination—events from reality were reflected in her fantasy.

Later on in the talkback, Shabshis explained how he had characters enter from specific locations around the stage if they were coming from Lucy’s subconscious. He also did a lot of preparation for the play. He revealed that he researched children with divorced parents and suicidal tendencies, both of which are topics that the play covers.

Additionally, Clowes discussed her role and how she was able to portray a 4-year-old, especially one with such a vivid and concerning imagination. “The biggest problem with the portrayal of Lucy [is] am I playing a mature 4-year-old or an immature 21-year-old?” she said. “Where is that balance? It was really difficult to be innocent and yet all-knowing.”

Clowes spoke as a child for the entire show. She did an exemplary job of performing a character over 15 years her junior.

This play explored the questionable reality of toddlers using their imagination to cope with loneliness and a home life full of turmoil. “Mr. Marmalade” depicted how present issues have influenced and altered children’s social development.

Shabshis’s preparation paid off, as the cast portrayed the sensitive issues that were examined in “Mr. Marmalade” in a moving performance.