Tarantino for Toddlers 

click to enlarge art39_theater_marmalade_100.jpg

The audaciously dark comedy "Mr. Marmalade," the latest from the Firehouse Theatre Project, flirts loosely with cultural commentary. Its depiction of Lucy -- a 4-year-old with an imaginary friend who wields a BlackBerry and snorts coke — could be a statement about how society makes children grow up too fast. And the all-too-mature way that Lucy (Laine Satterfield) plays "house" with her 5-year-old friend Larry (Larry Cook) might be trying to shed light on how childish adults can be.

But given that these symbolic possibilities don't really hold water in the end, it's best just to appreciate the weird universe playwright Noah Haidle constructs as a launching point for hilarious, ribald and occasionally shocking scenes that will defy your expectations at every turn. If you do, you might find that — even after wading through countless f-bombs, a briefcase full of sex toys and infanticide — you are oddly uplifted at the play's conclusion.

Material like this doesn't work unless the cast is fully committed to it, and director Rusty Wilson has assembled an exceptional bunch of actors who pull it off with aplomb. Satterfield infuses Lucy with just the right mix of cynical maturity and hopeful innocence. As Lucy's imaginary friend Mr. Marmalade, Andrew Boothby fully inhabits every stereotypical male caricature, from overworked executive to charming romantic to deadbeat dad. Cook skillfully captures the quirky rhythms of preschool interplay and Erin Thomas and Tony Foley shine in supporting roles as Lucy's neglectful mom and the one-night stand she brings home.

The unexpected jewel in this cast, however, is Billy Christopher Maupin, who plays Mr. Marmalade's personal assistant, Bradley, with crisp wit, but also utmost sincerity. While it's hard to know what exactly to take away from "Mr. Marmalade," the show is an entertaining distraction unlike any other you're likely to experience. S

"Mr. Marmalade" runs through Oct. 6 at the Firehouse Theatre Project at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 355-2001 or visit www.firehousetheatre.org.

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