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Mr. Marmalade

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How inept is Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade? Well, the production in New York -- starring Michael C. Hall and Meryl Streep's daughter -- opened in November '05 and closed in January '06. If you have the star of Six Feet Under and the daughter of theater royalty in your play and still can't eke out more than a two-month run, then something's wrong.

And what is wrong is Haidle's capricious, if not criminal, disregard for logic, character and theatrical truth. Lucy is a 4-year-old kid dumped with babysitters by her wayward mother. She's invented an imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade, who turns out to be a coke-snorting, porn-addicted workaholic. Things heat up when Lucy is introduced to Larry, a suicidal 5-year-old with his own imaginary friends, and things go from pot to worse in no time.

With that premise, it seems strange to say that Mr. Marmalade's biggest problem is that it doesn't make any sense. Still, a better playwright could take those elements and fashion a cohesive satire. Haidle, however, doesn't. He doesn't even try. Lucy is a child in name only; she possesses the mental sophistication of an adult woman, and processes the world around her with a maturity of thought that's decidedly non-childlike. She's a child only because Haidle thinks it's funny to have characters swear, leer and do drugs around a kid.

We're supposed to be shocked and tickled by it, but mostly we're just shocked by the lazy writing. Haidle changes the rules of internal logic so often that his play flatlines. When anything can happen in a play, then it doesn't really matter what happens -- and that's never a position you want to be in as a writer.

The Thank You Felix production is amazing because of the topflight work the troupe put in on this sub-par play. Adam Kukic directs with strength and focus and a thoroughly polished cast plays with enormous intelligence and style. Why anyone bothered, however, is another matter entirely.

Mr. Marmalade continues through Sat., Feb. 24. Gemini Theatre, 7501 Penn Ave., Point Breeze. 412-243-5201

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