Toronto theatre explores childhood trauma as drama.
It’s like watching The Rugrats on LSD. Or so reads the description of the show from Outside the March‘s website. Kindergarten aged children with adult-sized problems, Mr. Marmalade tells the story of four-year-old Lucy and her imaginary friend Mr. Marmalade, a violent sex-obsessed drug addict (all characters are played by adults). Mr. Marmalade is a site-specific production showcasing just how far a child’s imagination can go.
Approaching the site of the Holy Family Catholic School where the show is performed, you’re greeted with a series of sidewalk chalked reminders that you’re nearing the production, a foreshadow of things to come.
The performance takes place within two kindergarten rooms where, during the day, you may have dropped off your own little one. The audience moves with the action playing out within arms’ reach of the audience so be ready to maneuver from room to room following the scene. The school can get incredibly warm so be reminded that you are welcome to bring in your own water bottle to help battle the heat.
A child at the tender age of four holds an extremely heightened imagination, one that is constantly influenced by the adult figures in their immediate environment. Lucy (Amy Keating) is raised by an alcoholic mother Sookie (Katherine Cullen), and is often left in the care of babysitter Emily (also played by Katherine Cullen) who is more concerned with bringing her boyfriend George (Jason Chinn) over for her own nefarious reasons.
It’s no wonder that Lucy has a rather damaged and skewed imagination that has her violently abusing her toys during play. It’s also a testament that her imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade (Philip Riccio), is not a child, but an adult with adult issues, a man who reflects the abusive and destructive external world that she lives in.
While Emily and George are off on their own, Lucy befriends George’s younger brother Larry (Ishai Buchbinder), a suicidal and abused boy. Their developing friendship is enough to drive Mr. Marmalade into a jealous rage.
We are lead through the story by Julie Tepperman as The Guide, with her giant story book. She also serves as sound effects creator.
It’s hard to describe my reaction to this darkly comedic story. My date, Bob, and I found the show to be rather funny and yet we both felt we were laughing for all the wrong reasons. Watching Lucy play out spousal abuse and even sexual abuse with her Barbie and Ken dolls is one thing, watching her make an incredibly provocative and raunchy grab at Larry during a game of doctor is entirely another. The initial shock factor is where the laughter comes from – more of a nervous laughter right before the reality of what’s being witnessed kicks in. Although this is a performance about the lives of children, it is definitely a show for adults.
There are both high and romantic moments but dispersed with painful and uncomfortable scenes. The kindergarten rooms add to the atmosphere making it difficult to look away as no matter where your eyes travel, you are met with elements of innocent childhood.
I commend Mr. Marmalade for not holding back on tackling disturbing situations and displaying the vulnerability of childhood trauma in this dynamic site-specific show. If you are unafraid to delve into that dark hidden place, then Mr. Marmalade is a performance not to be missed.
– Mr. Marmalade is being performed at the Holy Family Catholic School (141 Close Ave.)
– Performances run from July 16 to 28 at 7:30 pm.
– Tickets are $20 and $10 for those under 30 years of age (only on Mondays and Wednesdays) and can be purchased online or at the door.
Photo of Amy Keating and Ishai Buchbinder by Simon Bloom.