Funny And Scary (But Mostly Funny), “Mr. Marmalade” Opens At West End Players Guild

Todd Schaefer as the title character and Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in "Mr. Marmalade" at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Todd Schaefer as the title character and Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in “Mr. Marmalade” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Lucy is a very strange little girl. She may need therapy by the time she’s five. Right now she’s four and has an imaginary friend named Mr. Marmalade. He’s a cigarette smokin’, cocaine snortin’, womanizing, undependable boozer- but he does enjoy a good cup of imaginary tea with Lucy. That’s how things get started in the latest production at West End Players Guild with Noah Haidle’s “Mr. Marmalade.”

Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy and Michael Brightman as Bradley in WEPG's "Mr. Marmalade." Photo: John Lamb

Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy and Michael Brightman as Bradley in WEPG’s “Mr. Marmalade.” Photo: John Lamb

Starting with Ken Clark’s inventive set that gives us a four-year old’s interpretation of her home including a love seat made of over-sized Legos and brightly colored and unusually shaped household amenities like floors, staircases and windows, it’s a wonderfully colorful way to be introduced to Lucy and her world as she sees it. Often left alone before a baby sitter can get there, she has developed quite an imagination and thus the need for an imaginary friend. With her mother dragging young men in and out of the house, she also gets an early education in sex and the nature of men. Thus the reason for the R-rated Mr. Marmalade.

Todd Schaefer as Marmalade mocks Lucy in the West End Players Guild production of "Mr. Marmalade.: Photo: John Lamb

Todd Schaefer as Marmalade mocks Lucy, played by Kimberly Byrnes, in the West End Players Guild production of “Mr. Marmalade.: Photo: John Lamb

Kimberly Byrnes is incredible as Lucy. You soon get into the spirit of her being a four year old and not always surprised at her maturity at such a tender age. The talented Todd Schaefer is perfect as Mr. Marmalade. He oils his way onto stage, tossing and stamping out his cigarette telling Lucy why he’s late. Though the relationship isn’t really a romantic one (until later in the play), he makes excuses like a husband afraid of being caught cheating on his wife. Working late and making appointments to see her make him more like a gigolo than an imaginary friend. But the two work beautifully together ebbing and flowing with each tiny spat and missed appointment for playing house and drinking tea from tiny, empty cups.

Greg Matzker as Larry and Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in "Mr. Marmalade" at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

Greg Matzker as Larry and Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in “Mr. Marmalade” at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

Mr. Marmalade is so busy, in fact, that he needs an assistant to help him out- which is also part of Lucy’s imaginary world. Bradley is given a spiffy and hilarious interpretation by the wonderful Michael Brightman. His Jeeve’s-like quality is delightful and his bit with getting a no-longer-needed prop candlestick off the stage is a comic masterpiece. He also shines in leading a group of supporting players in serenading Lucy and Mr. Marmalade as well as pulling many a surprise out of his briefcase including a raw steak. In fact, with the items coming out of his and Mr. Marmalade’s briefcases, it almost seemed like an episode of the old “Banana Man” on “Captain Kangaroo.” Dawn Campbell doesn’t win “mother of the year” but certainly acknowledges Mr. Marmalade- even though she can’t see him. It seems she thinks his presence may assuage her guilt of leaving Lucy alone all the time.

Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy is ecstatic with the good news from Todd Schaefer in the title role in "Mr. Marmalade" at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy is ecstatic with the good news from Todd Schaefer in the title role in “Mr. Marmalade” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Angela Bubash plays multiple roles including the baby sitter who also ignores Lucy thus fueling her need to invent even more imaginary friends. Is that the reason for Larry? Larry is a five year old who comes into Lucy’s world and is even more neurotic than our heroine. Wrists bandaged from an attempted suicide, Larry finds Lucy to be his only friend and maybe his savior. But is Larry real or just another imaginary friend? Greg Matzker does a fine job as the five year old although he’s not as convincing as Lucy merely because he’s a bit “long in the tooth” to portray a young child. Rounding out the cast is Ryan Wiechmann, again playing multiple roles including the baby sitter’s boyfriend and even a cactus (had to dig deep to play that role).

Todd Schaefer as Marmalade envisions the future with Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in "Mr. Marmalade" at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

Todd Schaefer as Marmalade envisions the future with Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in “Mr. Marmalade” at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

All of the actors really got into the off-beat script and director Steve Callahan brought every detail of being in the mind of this four year old- even a very inventive curtain call. The only real problem is with the Noah Haidle script itself. It’s a one-act but even the 90 minute running time runs a bit too long. It really needs some trimming and the writing itself needs to be cleaned up a bit- it’s often repetitive and at times appears to have been written by an actual four year old. It’s a bizarre and fascinating premise but not really ready for prime time.  So kudos to an energetic cast, the inventive Ken Clark set and the crisp direction- this would be a good choice if you want multiple theatre experiences in your life but, with a couple of classic interpretations of classic plays going on elsewhere, “Mr. Marmalade,” unfortunately, comes in third in a very powerful week of theatre.

The West End Players Guild production of “Mr. Marmalade” plays through February 22nd. Give them a call at 314-667-5686 or contact them at http://www.westendplayers.org for tickets or more information.

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