Mr. Marmalade: Kids Grow Up Fast These Days

Grand Rapids Native Playwright Noah Haidle

You’re bound for a tough life when even your imaginary friend doesn’t have time for you.

Of course, you might not realize that when you’re only four years old, as is Lucy, the pint-size protagonist of Mr. Marmalade. Played by an adult actress in pigtails and a tutu, Lucy is definitely wise beyond her years – but she doesn’t quite get that the behavior of her imaginary friend reflects the failures and vices of the adults in her world.

A Dark Comedy
Lucy spends a lot of time alone in her apartment or in the care of a disinterested babysitter while her single mother attends to her own life – which seems to consist primarily of going out and bringing home strange men to stay the night. In search of connection and companionship, Lucy invents Mr. Marmalade, a Type A businessman who often sends his assistant to visit Lucy while he’s preoccupied elsewhere. When he does drop by, Mr. M exhibits an unfortunate penchant for cocaine and pornography over tea parties and dress-up games. Things go from bad to worse when Lucy meets Larry, the youngest suicide attempt in the history of New Jersey, whose own imaginary playmates are a bit of a handful.

Shocking and profane, blisteringly funny yet deeply poignant, Mr. Marmalade is not remotely appropriate for children. It does, however, have a lot to say about the way children process the trauma of a dysfunctional family life in the light of an ever-coarsening popular culture and the often inappropriate behaviors on display in their own living rooms. The irreverent tone may remind you of TV’s South Park, but there’s much more there, as the playwright asks the audience to wrestle with some seriously heavy questions in between the belly laughs.

From E.G.R to N.Y.C.
Mr. Marmalade was written by Noah Haidle, who graduated from East Grand Rapids High School in 1997. Haidle left West Michigan for Princeton University, the Julliard School and a career as “one of the most consistently thought-provoking young playwrights working in this country,” according to one West Coast critic.

Mr. Marmalade premiered off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre in November 2005. The title role was played by Michael C. Hall, whose HBO series Six Feet Under, had just ended its acclaimed run. The role of Lucy was played by Mamie Gummer, the daughter of Meryl Streep, in her professional stage debut. Gummer won a 2006 Theatre World Award as Best Supporting Actress for the role.

Alas, this star power did not fill seats. Mr. Marmalade closed less than three months after its New York debut. Nonetheless, it has proven a robust performer in progressive regional theatres across the country. It also served as quite the calling card for Haidle.

After Marmalade
Haidle’s Vigils – a warm-hearted exploration of human memory and grief – premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theater in October 2006. His Persephone – in which the heroine, a statue of the Greek goddess Demeter, never moves an inch – debuted in Boston in 2007. This production moved The New Yorker magazine to pronounce the then 28-year-old Haidle “formidably talented.”

In November 2008, Haidle’s Saturn Returns premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center. The play involves three actors interpreting one character  – Gustin Novak – at momentous turning points, each 30 years apart. The entire production takes place in Gustin’s Grand Rapids, Michigan living room.

Haidle has also ventured into film. In 2004, he co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed Blood in the Sand, a comic samurai epic. Shot for $15,000 in 24 days, Haidle has called it both a “complete failure” and “a very good learning experience.” Presumably, he put the experience to good use scripting the film “Old Timers,” a comedy about two retired hit men. The film was slated for production in the latter half of 2009.

Still, Haidle’s heart seems firmly set in the theatrical world. In November 2009, he told the Orange County Register that, “I’m very much a student of history, and although film is entering its sixth generation, theater has been around for about 3,000 years. To be part of that lineage and sit down in that (playwright’s) chair is a place that I don’t take lightly.”

Giving a platform to daring, imaginative, unconventional theatrical voices is something Actors’ Theatre doesn’t take lightly. Please help us continue our mission by attending Mr. Marmalade.

Imaginary friends get in free!

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