Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Theater review: Mr. Marmalade at Texas Woman’s University in Denton
If you love theatre that jumps out at you, enriches you, takes you somewhere and brings you back, go see Mr. Marmalade.
I took this assignment on the spur of the moment. The theatre is in Denton (the Redbud Theater Rehearsal Hall, Room 204 on the TWU Campus), and I felt rushed. I had a quick hamburger on the fly, and then had a hard time finding the theatre. I was late and stressed by the whole thing.
The theatre was really just a rehearsal room with a high ceiling, about 20 lights on a grid, and 30 or so chairs set up (they were soft and adjustable -- comfortable, really), a couple guys at the tech desk with a stereo. Some black scrim material on the walls, a couch, with a chair and a coffee table.
There were three people in the audience, all 22 years old. The tech people were all 22 years old. The curtain went up and the whole cast was 22 years old. I remember thinking, "Man, I can't wait till this is over," unaware that my night was about to be flipped up into a stratosphere of unforgettable and wonderful theatre.
Have you ever had low expectations and been totally delighted and surprised? I had never even heard of this company or Mr. Marmalade, and was unprepared for the theatrical wallop I was about to get hit with.
The action takes place in the living room of Lucy, a four-year-old girl, played incredibly well by Tashina Richardson. Lucy lives alone with her somewhat negligent and somewhat slutty single mother (the able Vera Brumley). Her friends, both real and imaginary, range from being funny and adorable to dangerous, drug addicted, and (in her imagination), even sexually abusive, images a four-year-old shouldn't be having unless someone a lot older planted them in her mind, one way or another.
Lucy constantly chases her illusions, to have them burst over and over again by people she's given her heart to, growing in wisdom through the play and making some life-affirming choices without even knowing she's not old enough to make them. Yet all the while she's still a kid, leading us through her world left-footed and off balance, never quite ready for which way this jewel of a story will turn us next.
Mr. Marmalade trailer
I had never heard of playwright, Noah Haidle, and this is the only play of his I know (certainly his most successful). The company works out of TWU's Redbud Theatre, but isn't part of the school.
Director David Hanna is absolutely brilliant -- this guy is going places, and any production company needs to get aware of him quick. A fearless, deft, grandmaster -- tasteful -- the music choices blow us away. We would start laughing in the first few notes 'cause we knew what song was coming and what it meant to the show -- and talented. When you watch real talent you just sit back, you know? It's like an enthralling storm you just have to appreciate and let go on by.
I've seen theatre from New York to the West End, Sydney, Thailand, Paris, Rio De Janiero, Buenos Aires, Mexico, and Vilnius, Lithuania and I'll tell you this -- Tashina Richardson (as Lucy) and Robert Linder (as five-year-old Larry) could do this show to rave reviews anywhere, including Broadway right now. These two rock the house. Together with Mr. Marmalade (played by Nick Caldwell) and Bradley (played by Jamie Cooper) the cast are like a roomful of monkeys who can explode into all types of chaos in any instant and often do.
Somebody a lot smarter than me once said, "Acting is the art of self revelation." Well, if that's true Tashina Richardson (Lucy) and Robert Linder (Larry) are living examples. They both create strong child characters that never give up and never give out, but at the same time you can see who they are as people. That makes it like watching a thing of beauty, man! Like looking at a Van Gogh.
And aside from a few opening night jitters at the outset, Nick Caldwell, who has the insanely challenging job of acting out any and all fantasy scenarios of a precocious, wonderful, and sometimes disturbingly disturbed four year old, is right up there with them.
Jamie Cooper (Bradley) is amazing, too. His dancing in the Mexico scene is hilarious, and he settles down in the second act to do some first rate work.
Vera Brumley is just fine as the negligent mother. As written her character isn't very likable, but here's where I would take issue with the director. Mr. Hanna's mother is rather cold and unattached. Nothing in the play gets to her, even a boyfriend dumping her immediately after spending the night. And maybe as written, her character is more two-dimensional than the rest.
But I see possibilities to show pain, vulnerability, and exhaustion in the day-to-day grind of being a single mom, all if only in the subtext. I saw her negligence as a mother more as a function of weakness rather than of coldness.
Sean Ball has a smaller part, but he's my favorite type of actor -- internal with a natural deep relaxation. If the pace starts increasing, his instinct is to take his foot off the gas rather than speed into hysteria, a good natural trait that's hard to teach someone. However, he's a bit general at times, like when he hollers for Larry. Larry is in a specific place -- so choose where and send it right there -- a few little problems like that.
Kirsten Ranna does a great job for a beginner. It's really happening mentally for her. Now she needs to get comfortable and deliberate with her body. I feel a few dance lessons couldn't hurt. She's also not ready for the "New Jersey Girl" characterization as the babysitter. It gets in her way at this point and she should lose it.
Cody Lucas (set designer, props) does just enough without letting things get underfoot in this intimate space. Wise use of budget, too. Good job. Plus all the black scrims were straight across on the top and I like that.
Christopher Taylor's lighting design is totally unnoticeable, which is the best compliment to lighting. It does what it's supposed to do, and that's enough. Another good job.
Diana Hanna (costume design) has some uproarious moments which are all her own, where the costume does all the work, and that's a tribute to her impeccable taste and ability to find just the right thing at the right time. That takes a lot of work. Yet another good job!
It hurt me that there were only five of us in the audience. All the way home I kept thinking, "How can I get people in these seats for this deserving company?" This needs to be seen. If you love theatre that jumps out at you, enriches you, takes you somewhere and brings you back, go see Mr. Marmalade. It's worth the drive because you'll never forget this one.
Sorry, but this presentation is only for adults due to language and subject matter.
A footnote to the company -- alert the campus police office (in the same building as you) you're having a play. I asked them and they didn't know what I was talking about. Put up a sign on Oakland Street, too.
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