Never have I seen a more heartwarming tale of domestic abuse and suicide. Noah Haidle's play centers around the imaginary yet disturbingly mature relationships of four-year-old Lucy (Marya Sea Kaminski), neglected by her single mother and left on her own to confront love, sex, abuse, and cocaine. It's dark, to be sure, but Mr. Marmalade is also charming and sincerely funny, due in part to Katjana Vadeboncoeur's brilliant direction: In a story that could have taken a melodramatic turn, she's emphasized the play's comic potential while retaining its underlying sadness. Corey Ericksen's set design is equally inspired; in a space somewhere between a child's imaginary playroom and a dilapidated apartment, Lucy hosts tea partiesshe recommends the Darjeeling Oolongfor her suitors as well as her babysitter. The excellent cast includes Michael Place, whose portrayal of the substance-abusing title character is as perfectly bipolar as the play. With its lighthearted treatment of serious subjects, Mr. Marmalade doesn't provide new revelationsyes, abandonment of children is badbut dramatizing a family in crisis needn't be foregone simply because it's been done before. BRENT ARONOWITZ 8 p.m. Thurs.-Mon.; also 10:30 p.m. March 14-15. Ends March 16.
Mondays, Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.; Fri., March 14, 10:30 p.m.; Sat., March 15, 10:30 p.m. Starts: Feb. 21. Continues through March 16, 2008