Perhaps the most compelling aspect of CMU’s production of Mr. Marmalade is the actors’ ability to take on the roles of children. Specifically, a four year old. Aleyse Shannon, as the character Lucy, becomes a child in such a subdued, but critical way. She approaches the role with genuine curiosity and the unfettered brashness of a confident, precocious little girl.
The play is about this child’s odyssey to reconcile her own distraught emotional path with the archetypes of dysfunctional relationships she has learned. Her world is a mix of dissonant real people and exuberant imaginative ones. You get to see them all play.
It’s an important thing that the actors nail these roles. This play manages such gravity, such restrained heartache and the knowledge of trauma within the trope of what should be ebullient youth. When this paradigm (of being four years old) becomes compromised, it’s so important that the character is so grounded in her explorative, easy-going self.
I also want to compliment Asa Gardiner’s five-year-old Larry. He has mastered the little kid walk and quizzical, awkward eyes. He tackled the odd confoundedness of a self-aware shy boy.
This play tackles themes dealing with the horrors of real life: abuse, suicide, heart attacks, molestation; that through the eyes of a child are through the lens of fun and exploration. How does a girl who fights with rejection understand love? The girl understands the world through role models: a lover. A lover is a source of codependence, abuse, prizes and undefinable desire. The girl sees a role model. She sees this representation like a deity. She worships him. And be he the devil, a mother or a father; he is the aspired identity. It’s shaking, very shaking; to be struck by how impressionable children can be.
Lucy is too young to understand the horrible implications of her abusive role-models. She is just full of an impressive knowledge and confidence. To her, life is a combination of games like “Doctor” and “House”. The consequence of any game can have dire consequences way out of the scope of a child’s expectation. What is a game that has the potential of destroying innocence in such a seemingly innocent way? When a game unwittingly becomes an act of molestation or violence; what does the child see? It’s horror, but is it immediately horror? The crux of this question is the manifestation of Mr. Marmalade.
Her models become her mother, the babysitter, an absent father and a slew of presumed lovers; all with a trek of negligence and problems illustrated only through the metaphor of her imagination and games.
Jada Mayo was so talented in her split roles of the mother and the babysitter that I thoroughly did not believe it was the same actress. I checked over the program three times to make sure. Her mastering of the babysitter character: the pop of her mouth , the walk. It was all teen pomp: pure two snaps and nuh-uh-uh. As the mother, she commanded the role which really is the story the little girl is telling. As the only visible role model, Lucy’s actions and representations are the mirroring of her mother’s actions as well as her mother’s lovers. Mayo truly breaks into an essence that gathers a mother’s love, neglect, harshness and strange sympathy within only a few short scenes.
Scenic Designer Chen-Wei Liao also needs to be recognized for creating such a magnificently sterile and horrifying set. A veritable vortex of bleached children’s toys represents a sort of cold stillness mocking the representation of play. Before the play began, so many of its themes became clear.
This play is disturbing and dark, though rich with humor and spells into the imagination. The use of inventive lighting and media stood out, to make this surreal adventure even darker and stranger. It is a twisted, eerie, wonderful play.
Carnegie Mellon University’s production of Mr. Marmalade ends its run tonight in the Helen Wayne Rauh Studio Theater. For tickets and more information, click here.
Special thanks to CMU for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of CMU.