As a child, I had two imaginary friends — actually, dinosaurs. They lived on the ceiling and I used to lay on the floor and watch them. Nowadays, judging by Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade, which recently got a buoyant production by the NOLA Project, the imaginary friends of childhood can be downright nasty.
Lucy (Natalie Boyd) is an unhappy, neglected 4-year-old. Mr. Marmalade (A.J. Allegra) is her dapper imaginary friend. He's a businessman who dashes by to see Lucy and have a make-believe cup of tea before offering excuses about getting back to work. The creepy side of the relationship spills out early on when Lucy asks Marmalade why he doesn't touch her anymore and whether he's cheating on her. It spills out, literally, when Marmalade's briefcase breaks open by accident and porn magazines and a dildo scatter onto the floor. Marmalade also snorts cocaine and generally acts unhinged. Bradley (James Yeargain), Marmalade's assistant, turns up from time to time bearing the marks of his boss' physical abuse.
Fortunately, Lucy attracts a more age-appropriate suitor, Larry (Sam Dudley), though he has flunked preschool and will repeat the year. The two kids indulge in juvenile raciness by playing doctor. But the big question is whether they can progress to the sacred bonds of playing house, which is Lucy's substitute for the desolate real life of her childhood. Her single mother dates, leaving Lucy in the care of a babysitter who gets it on with boyfriends instead of paying attention to her.
Andrew Larimer directed this dark comedy with panache. The excellent cast threw themselves into their enigmatic parts, especially Boyd, who brought humor and life to the impossible role of Lucy.
Nonetheless, the play seemed long. You can twist twistedness just so much. Mr. Marmalade is edgy, I suppose, but that description covers a lot of ground. After a while, one longs for Not Edgy. Despite a grudging admiration for the production and its mordant moments of fun, I couldn't help wondering if Mr. Marmalade was really worth watching at all.