Normally my daughter Lizabeth is the roving reporter, seeing shows on Broadway and sharing vivid details that help me feel like I was sitting in the seat right beside her.
Most recently, it was “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” She’d had a mildly heated discussion the day before with a classmate who’d seen the show and loved it. Lizabeth felt certain it wasn’t all that swell, but had a hard time making her case having never been to the show.
Soon she’d landed a discounted ticket, and off she went. When Lizabeth called home with her “review,” her dad got to the phone first — translating her take on “Spider-Man” to me as follows: “She felt wounded to the very depths of her theatrical soul.” Not good.
Tonight I was roving reporter for Lizabeth, heading to Venue 104 in Tempe for the debut, a preview really, of their very first theater season — a series of four works starting with a dark comedy by playwright Noah Haidle, who hails from Grand Rapids but has degrees from both Princeton and Juilliard.
It’s called “Mr. Marmalade” and it’s being performed at Venue 104 Fri, Sept 16 to Sat, Oct 1 (tonight was a “pay what you can” tech/dress rehearsal). It’s a mature audience work, so you’ll want to hire a babysitter — then hope she bears no resemblance to babysitter “Emily” in the show.
I was apprehensive going into “Mr. Marmalade.” Several reviews I’d read about the “dark comedy” stressed dark over funny. It’s full of disturbing themes including abuse and suicide — but it’s one of the funniest works I’ve seen in a long time. This production is directed by Tim Shawver.
Four-year-old Lucy has imaginary friends, and spends much of her time in pretend play that mirrors the lives of the adults who populate her world. But Lucy is different than her grown-ups. She’s assertive, standing up for both herself and others instead of playing the victim.
“Mr. Marmalade” is full of playful nostalgia — with songs, toys, fashion and sayings that’ll take you right back to decades your college-age kids aren’t old enough to remember but you’re still too young to forget. Nobody would actually snort cocaine off an Etch-a-Sketch anymore. That’s so 1980s.
Venue 104 — dubbed a “performance cafe” by owner Michael Peck — is a perfect setting for such works. Audience members sit close to stage level, so you lose that “fourth wall” feeling. The wall we sometimes build between ourselves and other theater-goers falls away as well, making performance art a communal experience it’s hard to find in larger houses.
“Mr. Marmalade,” which runs just over an hour, features a seven member cast. All are superb. The material explores some serious questions. Whether loneliness or being alone is the lesser of two evils. Why playing doctor dissolves so easily into playing house. Still, the work feels more romp than requiem.
Maybe it was all that Kidz Bop music playing before the show. I sent Lizabeth a text with the names of a couple of the songs, picturing her rolling those baby blues behind new purple glasses. Seems similar music was blasting in the common suite near her dorm room at the time. At least now she feels grateful it’s not being sung by six year olds.
Note: For show information or tickets, visit Venue 104 at www.venue104.com. Please remember that this is a mature content play not suitable for young audiences.
Coming up: My brief brush with “American Idol”