Mr. Marmalade is a successful, charming, abusive jerk who makes little time for his woman — naturally, four-year-old Lucy loves him desperately. She’ll even play “Doctor” with him in the afternoon (the way he likes it) to make him stay. They could be so happy together, if only he’d quit being such a bad imaginary friend….
If Lucy’s dilemma sounds depressingly familiar, it should. Noah Haidle’s Mr. Marmalade is a smart, twisted commentary on the games adults play, appropriately depicted through play dates shared by two lonely children. The lively cast makes the depressing allegory entertaining though the fantasy sours dramatically and some of the performances are uneven; Mamie Gummer has great comedic timing but her distracting version of a little girl’s voice often sounds like that of a sulky pre-teen with emotional problems. Michael C. Hall as manipulative Mr. Marmalade, however, is powerful as the center of Lucy’s imaginary world. It is a world of ecstasy, despair and the devastatingly simple need for love. Hardly a shameful request, but some people just won’t play fair.