I feel bad for the folks at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy. Although having obtained the rights to premiere playwright Noah Haidle’s “Mr. Marmalade” a full three weeks before Dog & Pony Theatre Company’s staging of the same play (see separate listing), I feel that audiences who see both may inevitably end up comparing the two during the final three weeks of the former’s run. By that standard, CIC’s production—as grim, grungy and unwelcoming as the Cornservatory that houses it—couldn’t be more different. But it is consistent, at least with director Dave Whalley’s darker view of the play that stresses the cruelty of both Haidle’s comedy and in his characters, yet ultimately at the expense of much of the play’s hilarity and heart. Whalley’s pessimistic point of view is most strongly evident from the start, when 4-year-old Lucy has conjured up the imaginary Mr. M and he’s little more than dismissive, patronizing and short with her. Lacking charm, charisma or one iota of playful exuberance, you wonder why Lucy or any child would conjure up such a monster for their play date. How I see it, Lucy should not be doomed from the start. Because although imaginary buddies may end up becoming disappointing partners, tea parties may become awkward dinners and a lack of time for play dates may later mean a lack of quality time with your lover (the themes in Haidle’s writing that haunt you long after the laughter subsides), there is always some hope. Otherwise, there would be no reason for the play’s final scene, a scene that is not so much a happy ending as a compassionate one. Whalley’s pessimistic tone to the production and his actors’ performances, however, misses this point, as well as the more complex layers of characterization and the bathetic shifts between comedic mischief and melodrama that infuse the play with its unique sense of whimsy. It’s an interpretation—surprisingly supported by the text—that may work for some. Unfortunately, it did not work for me. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
The Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln, (800)838-3006. Thu-Fri 8pm/Sun 5pm. $15. Through April 29.