There are some shows that you love when you watch them and then afterwards you wonder what was so great. Then there are some shows that don’t seem to work quite right when you are in the theater but then come together in your head after you leave and you can’t stop thinking about them. With “Mr. Marmalade” I’ve had a weird variant of this kind of post-show experience. I’m finding that I like the play as written – and as I remember it – less than I did at first. But my appreciation of how well it was staged has increased.
What I find frustrating about the writing was that I can’t quite make the ideas behind the scenes come together in a way that makes sense. Some of the scenes are just a little too surreal to dovetail with reality, but is that done to show how a four-year old perceives the world? The correlations with “real world” adulthood are a little too matchy-matchy with the dynamics of real grown-ups if this is really supposed to be a four-year old perspective. And what about the real adults in the show? They’re just a bit too clueless to be “real” adults so is the playwright attempting some level of social commentary? And if so, what exactly is he saying? I propose some possibilities in my review for Style (not to be published until next Wed. – sorry). During the show, I just let the narrative flow over me. When I try to connect the dots afterward, it just makes my head hurt.
But given that, I have much more respect for Rusty Wilson and his crew for putting together such an entertaining production. One scene that I remember fondly every time I think of it – probably because I’m just weird – is the “Mr. Marmalade with the leaf-blower” scene. It’s great that you get just snatches of the story – which sounds like a doozy – in between the obnoxious blasts of sounds. It’s an almost “anti-theatrical” scene and I loved it simply for that. I also appreciate Laine Satterfield’s performance more in retrospect. During the show, she seemed to me like the eye at the center of the storm as all the rest of the characters swirled around her. Thinking about it now, I realize that a more appropriate metaphor is that she is the show’s anchor. Her consistency in a role that could be more all of the place (after all, the character is four, an age when even normal children can seem schizophrenic) is what keeps the show on track.
Tony Foley and Erin Thomas are very good in their various roles, the only problem being that all of the characters are pretty odious (even the house plants) so it’s harder to appreciate the performances. One thing to note though is the great transition Erin makes from the mom to the babysitter. It’s one of those actor things that’s just fun to watch as she so clearly defines the two characters, with speech, posture, affect, etc.
I didn’t have time to go on in my Style review about Andrew Boothby’s performance, which is really pretty excellent. In the T-D’s review, Ms. Haubenstock seems to denigrate the fact that some of the characters are “types.” Well, in the case of Mr. Marmalade, I think that’s kind of the point. And one thing I think Boothby does particularly well in the show is capture all the aspects of the different “types” he plays. He really made me believe he was a harried exec and then alternately abusive addict and then alternately a repentant 12-stepper in recovery. Even though they are “just types,” it takes a skilled actor to fully inhabit each one in turn and make it live and breath.
I loved Larry as Larry; it’s virtually impossible for me not to like Larry at this point. He’s just one of those actors that brings a spark to whatever he does. The way he (or maybe this was Rusty’s direction as well) captures the weird rhythms of children at play was great. But, having said that, I think there were times when Larry’s performance moved ever so subtly from “the way children act” to “the way adults portray children when acting.” There were just a few times when I asked myself, would a five-year really do something like that? And my answer to myself was No, I don’t think so. Part of that is undoubtedly the writing and maybe even some direction. Still…
As I will say in my review, and I’ll reiterate here, the real revelation for me in this show is Mr. Maupin’s performance. His character is definitely a “type,” the low-self-esteem, abused, gay assistant. But Mr. Maupin is so earnest and sincere in his performance – the spot-on a capella singing being the cherry on top – that he totally transcends the stereotype. My second favorite scene in the show (after the leaf-blower scene) is Billy’s last moments on stage as the play ends. It’s a sweet little coda to a sometimes frantic and overwrought play. It’s also a scene where the quality of Mr. Wilson’s direction I think really shines through. So often, I don’t really know how to praise a director because the best ones are responsible for everything but then their influence is hard to pin down in terms of how things unfold for the audience; they’re the magic, invisible hand pulling all the strings. Rusty really did an excellent job rendering a coherent and convincing staging of this play. Good job, Firehouse folks!