Giving new meaning to the expression, "Oh, our child is growing up so fast", Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade, directed by Olivia Trevino for the Garage Theatre, poses and then answers an intriguing question: What if there's no refuge in a little girl's dreams?
Presumably nothing's more natural (or innocent) for a four-year-old girl to play house with a make-believe boyfriend that emerges from a toy chest that serves as a portal to her imagination. Our Miss Susie Homemaker believes that the world's a secure, upbeat place: before the curtain she throws a paper airplane to the audience with the assurance that we adults will throw it back.
What if that trust goes awry, to put it mildly?
Updating to the 21st century the ritual of playing house, this well acted and very well directed production shows how Lucy (Cali Dunaway) may cast her destiny's script but she doesn't write it, her environment does. When her Mother (Amy Louise Sebelius) goes out for an evening of debauchery and Emily the babysitter (Sebelius) skulks off to canoodle with her boyfriend George (Matthew Anderson), Lucy envisions herself in various roles. A stay at home Mom (unlike her own mother, who waitresses), married to a respectable -- or so we think -- on-the-go businessman, Mr. Marmalade (Angel Correa). She imagines a scenario of domestic beatitude. She sees herself as a devoted wife (unlike her mother who, in her own word, is "easy"), a caring mother. In return, she expects love. When that is not the case -- Mr. Marmalade is a scoundrel who abuses her and his personal assistant Bradley (Joe Howells) -- she does the most horrific thing a mother can do.
Despite its nerve-rattling implications, the script has its funny moments that set off Lucy's adolescent dystopia. At the end of this grim and bloody fairy tale, she comments how long the evening has been (For us too. It was like thirty years of therapy rolled into two hours). With grand solemnity she pours tea, plays doctor and adores her make-believe chum. She rebuffs Larry (AJ Pacheco), the real life five-year-old brother of George, who has demons of his own. She's precocious, not just because of her wry humor -- given a make-up card from Mr. Marmalade, she responds that she can't yet read -- but because of the way she handles (or not) those Jerry Springer moments that unfold before her (and our) eyes.
Trevino and the actors bring a frenzied sense of disbelief to the production. Disbelief to Lucy in the way her dreams could so unravel. Disbelief to us in that, as monstrous as the story feels, it doesn't seem all that implausible.
With a playground voice and gestures that brim with enthusiasm and hope for sanctuary-seeking wonder, Dunaway embodies all that is innocent in Lucy. She also makes us cringe at her un-cathartic transformation at the end. Dressed like a money launderer, behaving like a pimp, Correa's Mr. Marmalade trumps the prototypical bad boy of adolescent dreams. A porn-loving, cocaine-snorting alcoholic, he's a masochistic bearer of unkept promises. Only Pacheco's Larry seems normal, if that's the word. Though he's tried to kill himself, his make believe friends are a Cactus (Anderson) and a Flower (Sebelius), wisecracking, obnoxious but otherwise innocuous.
Performances are 8pm, Thur. - Sat. The show runs until May 21. Tickets are $15-20. The Theatre is located at 251 E. Seventh Street, Long Beach. For more info call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.thegaragetheatre.org.