Monday, July 25, 2016

Mr. Marmalade—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

“Growing Up is Hard to Do”

This black comedy is written by Noah Haidle and directed by Jo Strom Lane.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (limited parking in the church lot across the street), through August 6th.  For more information, go to their site at

Childhood is a fragile commodity, the birthing grounds for imagination, creativity and memories.  It is also a place where deception and desire are fostered and, depending on how influenced we are at those early ages by outside stimuli, it is the breeding area for our future selves as adults.  So what we encounter, both consciously and unconsciously, will become our mantra for later life.  And, as creators of these little lives we, as parents/educators, have a responsibility/duty to let them play, explore and observe a fragment of the world within a safe environment.

But children are like sponges and will absorb anything from outside their creative world and translate it into their own terms.  Imaginary friends are well within those flexible boundaries but who those “friends” are, may also mirror who the authority figures of them are.  And so the flexible, Mr. Marmalade (Scott Walker), and his personal assistant, the ever-patient, Bradley (Breon McMullin), is “born” to a little, snotty, four-year-old girl name Lucy (Jayne Furlong).

Her home life is less than desirable, with a self-absorbed mother, Sookie (Alicia Marie Turvin), who “sleeps around” and an equally, self-absorbed baby-sitter, Emily (Chloe Payne) who is fixated on TV, when not “messing around” with her abusive boyfriend, George (Robert Altieri).  The only slight ray of sunshine is when George brings his inquisitive, five-year-old, step-brother, Larry (Jay Dressler) to the home and Lucy and he strike up a friendship.  And so this is the world that will be reflected into Lucy’s imaginary one with Mr. M. and Bradley.

Marmalade is all romance and fun times as he comes to visit, totally giving Lucy a world very much unlike the one she lives in.  But, being this is her imaginary world, she is limited by experience as to what she can imagine.  And so, reality raises its ugly head and begins to intrude on her make-believe world.  Her safe games of playing doctor and tea parties and playing house take on a more sinister demeanor.  It becomes more oppressive as things like drugs, potential abortion, murder, alcoholism, abuse and suicide and other imaginary beings (Laila Mottaghi and Marquis “Tony” Domingue) begin to invade her life.

I can’t tell you more without ruining discoveries an audience should make but, suffice to say, there is a dim light at the end of the tunnel.  This reminds me somewhat of another play I reviewed recently at Post 5, Stupid Kids, in which fantasy and reality clash.  The world may be what we make it, but that world does start somewhere…and that “somewhere” is childhood.  Tread softly.  The author does not give us easy answers…will a child’s imagination reflect reality, or is it an escape from it, or both…is the wispy, diaphanous set meant to represent comforting clouds of dreams, or confining tangled webs of deceit…a thin line, a delicate balance…?!

Lane has chosen well her cast and has picked singers with strong voices for her musical interludes.  I like the transparent background for these mind games, too.  This is a savage, brutal look at childhood from one person’s view and he has chosen to pull no punches.  Lane’s cast is spot-on, too, and play their roles, without apology, giving us an adorned look at a conflicted child’s world.  Furlong and Dresser are just fine, inhabiting the minds of toddlers.  And Walker and McMullin are unrelenting in their portrayals of characters in a topsy-turvy world.  One note, though, Dodge Ball is not a game of catch but one in which one person tries to hit another with a ball…a dubious crossover from one world to the other.

I recommend this play but, as mentioned, it is very adult in language and subject matter, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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