Noah Haidle's dark and disturbing yet amusing, "Mr. Marmalade," directed by Ross Gavlin and now showing at Epic Theatre Company, is a play about a young girl with an unthinkable imagination that gives new meaning to the saying, "out of the mouths of babes."
The babe in this case is Lucy (Vanessa Blanchette), the lonely, four-year-old daughter of a philandering single mother (Sarah Barlow). While mom is out and about with her boyfriend of the week, Lucy spends her time with her imaginary husband, Mr. Marmalade (Jason Quinn), an intimidating, foul-mouthed, coke-snorting, gangster-like thug who joins her for tea, promises to take her on lavish vacations and shows her physical affection.
Due to his busy schedule, Mr. Marmalade makes abrupt exits, which leaves Lucy feeling neglected, until she meets Larry (Tim Caron), a five-year-old boy with suicidal tendencies who is more than willing to play house -- and doctor.
Lucy's infidelity does not go unnoticed when Mr. Marmalade's fiercely loyal assistant and punching bag, Bradley (TC Belli), checks in on her. Poor Lucy is then left torn between her estranged husband with a violent temper and her depressed younger companion who hurts himself. What's a four-year-old girl to do?
Below the surface, way below, lurks an important message that children are exposed to too much too soon and perhaps forced to grow up too fast in today's world. That said, the playwright clearly takes that premise to the extreme, and while it has its moments of hilarity and cleverness, I would argue the end result is a bit over-the-top. Child neglect, domestic violence, drug abuse and depression are but a few examples of society's ills examined by the play, all within its brief 70-minute running time.
Whether you find the stage activity intriguing, unsettling or titillating, the performances are undeniably spot-on. Blanchette looks and sounds the part of Lucy, which makes her brilliant performance all the more horrifying. Quinn's portrayal, as well, is frighteningly convincing.
Caron is charming and especially genuine as troubled youngster, Larry, and Belli is eloquent as Bradley, the oddest yet most humane member of the cast (which isn't saying much), who provides a much-needed calmness among this assemblage of misfits.
Speaking as a frequenter of all kinds of theater, "Mr. Marmalade" was like nothing I've ever seen before, and that's saying something.
"Mr. Marmalade" runs through Nov. 25 at The Zabinski Studio in the Hope Artiste Village, 999 Main Street, Pawtucket. For info or tickets, call 401-368-7689 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.