‘Mr. Marmalade’ stirs with dark childhood specters

As unsettlingly imaginative youngster Lucy, Liz So plays ‘doctor’ with the despondent Larry, portrayed by Justin Mancini. (Melissa Mastro / Staff Photographer)

Lucy’s life is a playground for infidelity, suicide and drug abuse. Lucy is four years old.

All College Theatre’s (ACT) production of “Mr. Marmalade” transformed the Don Evans Black Box Theatre into a warped world of imagination on Feb. 27, detailing the shockingly mature relationships — both imaginary and real — of young Lucy.

Abandoned to boredom by a neglectful mother, Lucy creates a series of comically disturbing scenarios involving a set of peculiar characters that reflect the actual dysfunction surrounding her. The play serves as a caricature of reality, manifested in a surprising context — the imagination of a little girl.

When asked what challenges he faced in introducing “Mr. Marmalade” to the College, director Daniel Student said the dimensions of the characters proved difficult.

“Dealing with the levels of violence and hatred that come through the characters for such sweet actors was a challenge,” Student said. The play is Student’s second show at the College, following “Star Wars! the Musical,” though “Mr. Marmalade” is his first endeavor with ACT.

“I thought (“Mr. Marmalade”) would be a nice step forward, a type of play that is harder to swallow … but does it with great humor and charm,” he said.

Liz So, sophomore self-designed international study major, played the precocious Lucy. Though initially her dialogue became slightly tangled in her ‘baby voice,’ her childish mannerisms easily convinced of her age. So’s irresistible charm as Lucy masterfully contrasted with her snarky comments and her often mature grasp of the world.

John Cherney, sophomore cognitive science major, was Mr. Marmalade, the product of Lucy’s hyperactive imagination. Cherney’s serious and often-frightening demeanor met the challenge of authenticating an abusive, cocaine-addicted imaginary friend. His uninterrupted poise received laughter and gasps from the audience — from extreme instances such as spilling a suitcase concealing pornography to striking Lucy.

Matt Daley, junior English major, played Mr. Marmalade’s personal assistant, Bradley. Daley conveyed his nervous loyalty to Mr. Marmalade with composed sincerity, broken only to reveal the decline of Mr. Marmalade.

Justin Mancini, sophomore English major, as Larry, Lucy’s first real friend, expertly portrayed the awkward, suicidal preschooler. With eyes consistently downcast and a soft tone of voice, Mancini captured Larry’s embarrassed existence and impressively prevailed through standing in just his underwear as he was “examined” by Lucy, without breaking character.

ACT’s careful attention to detail in this play was apparent — in everything from Larry’s Velcro shoes to abandoned Barbies strewn across the set. The use of trap doors enabled the rapid appearances and disappearances of Lucy’s imaginary friends, while red lighting revealed Mr. Marmalade’s rage.

Despite the fantastical nature of the play, its characters became real, clearly conveying the sardonic soul of “Mr. Marmalade.”