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Mr. Marmalade, Bring Me a Dark Comedy

Get ready to nervous laugh and self-reflect during an upcoming UH performance about four-year-old Lucy and her imaginary friend who’s anything but friendly.

“There’s more to this than meets the eye.” This idiom perfectly captures Noah Haidle’s black comedy play, “Mr. Marmalade.”

On the surface, “Mr. Marmalade” is about Lucy and her imaginary friend, a businessman who’s addicted to cocaine, dependent on alcohol and lugs around a suitcase full of… toys. However, through the overactive, metaphoric imagination of a four-year-old, Haidle examines how children are often forced to navigate the choppy waters of childhood trauma alone.

First-time lead dramaturg Logan Butcher can’t wait to see audiences’ reactions when the play, which runs from October 5 – 7 in Studio 208, opens at the UH School of Theatre & Dance.

“I’m excited to finally get this in front of people and watch the audience watch the show,” Butcher says. “It’ll get people in their emotions first and then, hopefully, get them to start thinking. I love those kinds of plays.”

With the help of the assistant dramaturgs and director Adam Noble, Butcher’s research for “Mr. Marmalade” allowed him to gain insight into the show’s deeper themes.

Butcher says the play examines how some childhoods are far from ideal and how this dissonance can affect kids whose upbringing is disrupted by abuse and neglect. The show also studies how society’s perception of children is often different from what children actually perceive and internalize.

“The plot is a real exploration into the psychology of that neglected four-year-old girl,” Butcher adds.

To prepare for her role as Lucy, Alyssa Marek worked with Noble to better understand how the production will balance the dark and humorous elements. They also explored ways Marek as an actress could handle scenes involving sensitive topics, in an effort to find the appropriate balance that’ll best serve the show.

“The director and I talked about how people’s actions, how people treat others, can really affect the lives and outcome of other people,” says Marek.

Regarding how the production should deal with heavy matter, Butcher feels the same as Marek.

“You don’t necessarily want to skirt around the touchy aspects of the play or distort the playwright’s intent,” he says. “We fully intend to explore them and to tackle them in a way that hopefully speaks to the intent and in a manner that’s most respectful to the actors who actually portray the scenes.” 

To balance out the sobering themes, the play includes comedy that’ll make audiences both laugh and sweat.  

For example, the production plans to uncover the contents of Mr. Marmalade’s briefcase with the purpose of making the audience smile — and think. In reality, the briefcase is more than a saucy joke; the case symbolizes the intimate, sordid details that make up the character Mr. Marmalade, as well as the internalized expectations Lucy has of men, Butcher explains.

Marek looks forward to acting out situations and intense subject matter interpreted through the eyes and mind of a child.

“It gets funny, extremely funny. And then it gets extremely dark, disturbing and uncomfortable,” Marek says. “So, we, the actors, get to play with two ends of the spectrum that can make you laugh or make you squeamish.”

Butcher considers the play “a nonrealistic comedy” that’ll take audiences into very dark places where they can laugh and gasp — and maybe even be shocked into a contemplative state. 

“Once you’ve seen the show, it should be clear that all of those little transgressions that you thought were flying over a child’s head entirely were actually being ingrained deep into their psyche,” Butcher says. “Children are mental sponges, and they can extrapolate plenty of information from the examples you set, even if you don't think they can.”

Mr. Marmalade is sold out online, but standby tickets are available on the day of the show. Learn more about our standby ticket policy.