abusive relationship, Barney Havarti, Bay Area theatre, Carissa Hatchel, Carson Duper, child abuse, child neglect, children's games, conformity, dark comedy, Eric Gutierrez, family values, Fort Mason Center, imaginary friends, independent theatre, indie theatre, Karla Hargrave, Larry Santy, Lauren Burgat, learned behavior, Michael Zavala, monkey see monkey do, Mr. Marmalade, Noah Haidle, playing doctor, pre-adolescence, Rachel Goldberg, Renzo Romero, San Francisco, San Francisco theatre, Sara Ramos, satire, social commentary, social satire, Steve Bologna, tea time, Theatre review
“‘I am growing up,’ she thought, taking her taper at last. ‘I am losing some illusions,’ she said, shutting Queen Mary’s book, ‘perhaps to acquire others[.]’”
– Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography
It’s said that whatever can be identified as a child’s worst trait is most likely something the child picked up from their parents. Is the kid a bully? Racist? Couch-potato? Junk-food junkie? Outspoken? Religious? Animal-lover? Animal-killer? Conventional wisdom says that these are learned behaviors and that they were most likely learned in the home. For genuinely bad behaviors, it’s no surprise to hear genuinely bad parents try to deflect accusations of their kid imitating them by saying “They could’ve learned that from anywhere!” Even worse, they may try to rationalize it with “They’re too young to know what it means!”
But what if the kid not only knows what it means, but takes it to heart? Try as parents might to blame a kid’s attitude on the ad hoc babysitters of tv, videogames, music, and the internet, odds are good that the kid will imitate the person with whom the spend the majority of their day. And eventually, they won’t just understand, they’ll think it’s the way things are supposed to be.
Mr. Marmalade is Noah Haidle’s twisted 2004 satire about children taking the lessons from adults and integrating them into their playtime. It’s been at least a decade since I last saw it performed, so it’s quite an auspicious choice for my first Breach Once More show.
Lucy doesn’t have any “real” friends. That is to say, she doesn’t have any friends her own age and who are able to be perceived by anyone other than herself. Her one and only friend is imaginary, yet all too real: the clean-cut, vice-prone businessman Mr. Marmalade. Though they meet for the sort of tea parties you’d expect in any little girl’s bedroom, the conversation often resembles that of an adult couple on their way to divorce.
Further complicating matters is the arrival of Larry, Lucy’s babysitter’s boyfriend’s little brother. Larry brings both his own hang-ups and his own imaginary friends to his impromptu playdate with Lucy. Although most of the participants are imaginary, the game they’re playing starts to become uncomfortably real.
I didn’t know that I was seeing a preview performance until it was announced at the top of the show. I’d rather not review that kind of show because, as I know from first-hand experience, there can be a few wrinkles to iron out before the show gets a proper open. Still, the company made the preview performances available for review, so I will.
Haidle’s script is still as hilariously scathing as ever, and director Steve Bologna makes the best of a very limited budget. From a pre-show playlist that has a bit of a Sofia Coppola feel (including The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”) to having the actors make seamless quick-changes, the production is put on by someone who clearly wants to make the most of the script they have. However, the decision to have the narration read – nay, shouted – by whomever is off-stage is more than a little intrusive. It also doesn’t work to have the transitional music completely cut out for said narration. And there should definitely be a warning for the fact that the fight scene features a flashing strobe light.
Still, those moments are few and far between. After all, what really works for the show is its cast. Rachel Goldberg’s Lucy can sometimes feel a bit too self-aware – like an adult portraying a child (which she is) – but she has a fine grasp one Lucy’s underlying innocence that serves her well, even at her brattiest. Michael Zavala appears to be having fun as the titular Mr. Marmalade, alternating from mild-mannered to charming to vicious with each scene – like the abusive husband of a Lifetime made-for-tv movie… but as a comedy. Eric Gutierrez is a fine balance between the two as the suicidal Larry, the only person with the imagination to match Lucy’s, and the will to confront Mr. Marmalade. At the risk of breezing through, these three are served just as well by the support of Lauren Burgat as Lucy’s mother and babysitter, and Renzo Romero as the babysitter’s boyfriend and Mr. Marmalade’s frequently abused assistant.
Given that the show is performed at Fort Mason’s Young Performers Theatre, it seems appropriate that the set by Karla Hargrave has a bit of a “school play” feel to it. After all, the story is told from the funhouse-mirror-point-of-view of a juvenile. There are hidden windows for characters to pop their heads out, Laugh-In-style, though they seemed to shake the walls of the set at times. Strobe lights notwithstanding, the window-scrim of Carson Duper’s lights showed that a great effort was being made, in spite of the stretched budget. And Carissa Hatchel’s costume choices are actually most effective with the stories they about the “normal” characters: Lucy’s dresses; Larry’s Superman shirt; etc.
Though the show tends to drag in its final scenes, extending the running time farther than it should, Breach Once More’s production does a decent job of showing that finances are less important to art than ingenuity. A fine cast balances out the production’s more rougher edges, thanks in no short part to playing the script for all of its lacerating worth. Given how many recent productions I’ve seen that tried and failed to have commentary, it’s nice to see one that actually knows what they’re trying to say.
Mr. Marmalade is scheduled to run until the 24th of June at the Young Performer’s Theatre at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.
The show runs roughly two hours with one 15-min. intermission.
For tickets and information, please visit the company’s official site here.