Arts & EntertainmentPlaying it safe: Dark themes challenge ‘Mr. Marmalade’ actors

marmalade2Danny Woods practices a scene in which he must hit Sarah McGrath in Ivy Tech Student Productions’ presentation of “Mr. Marmalade.” The dark comedy is the story of a young girl, played by McGrath, who is abused by her imaginary friend Mr. Marmalade. Ivy Tech Bloomington | Courtesy photo

Posted: By Marcela Creps 812-331-4375 |

They’re hard scenes to watch.

Lucy gets slapped and called vulgar names. Larry must perform half-naked — a state of undress that makes him noticeably uncomfortable. George yells loudly, swearing at a young girl.

Those scenes are even harder for the actors to perform.

Ivy Tech Student Productions is in rehearsals for “Mr. Marmalade,” a dark comedy that follows 4-year-old Lucy, whose imaginary friend abuses her physically, mentally and sexually.

During rehearsals, all the actors seem aware of how difficult the scenes can be. Evan Pritchard, who plays Larry, is a shy, soft-spoken guy who finds he can relate to his character, a 5-year-old boy with depression issues.

Pritchard said he initially read for the role of Mr. Marmalade, the imaginary friend of Lucy, so he didn’t know much about the role he got.

“Actually, as I started reading more of his lines, I realized he’s closer to how I am as a person. I’ve dealt with depression a lot, and he deals with depression,” Pritchard said.

The actor has also dealt with anxiety issues — something that made the first few rehearsals difficult when he had to undress in front of the other actors, who were strangers. Pritchard said he didn’t say his lines very loud as he wanted to look at the floor and go unnoticed.

But Sarah McGrath, who plays Lucy, recognized Pritchard was struggling.

“She shared a personal thing with me in front of everyone that made me feel a lot better about doing it,” Pritchard said.

McGrath said she had no intention of sharing something personal with the cast. But she saw how self-conscious Pritchard was.

“I kind of wanted to get us on even terms and give him something so he knows we all have things like that,” McGrath said.

During rehearsals, McGrath demonstrates her empathy for her fellow actors. When she and Danny Woods, who plays Mr. Marmalade, are rehearsing a scene in which she is slapped, they go through the process slowly. As they feel more comfortable, the scene is sped up.

With each run through, McGrath crumples to the ground after Woods berates her before following through with a slap.

“How are you feeling?” McGrath asked Woods after she sees him shaking his head.

“OK. It’s just I didn’t say that line very well,” Woods replied.

In another scene, Woods and Pritchard fight, with Pritchard getting the upper hand and forcing Woods into the coffee table on the set. Director Paul Daily asks Woods if he is still planning to do a face plant.

“I’m still trying to get used to that,” Woods said after running through the scene.

After an hour of rehearsal, the actors take a five-minute break, but not before Daily asks an important question.

“How’d that all feel?” Daily asked. No one really responds with more than a nod.

“The violence feel OK?” Daily asked. Again, there are lots of slow nods.

“The sex and violence has always concerned me,” Daily said later, pointing out that these college-aged students are exploring areas of the human psyche that is difficult.

To help the students prepare, Daily gave the actors a handout at the first rehearsal. It was an article by Adam Noble, who taught movement at IU. The article tells the actors how important it is to check in with each other and set boundaries. If something isn’t comfortable, then the actor needs to speak up so that the intent of the script and maybe not the letter of the script is conveyed.

“That’s certainly been my focus and my concern,” Daily said.

McGrath said Daily was crucial to helping her character development. The climax of the play puts her in a very difficult position that she had a tough time coming to grips with, but Daily sat down with her and walked her through the next 20 years of her character’s life so that she could better understand what happens to Lucy.

Understanding her character’s life story, McGrath said, helped her “illuminate one of the most difficult parts there.”

Playing a bad guy has been a challenge for Woods.

“This role is the polar opposite of me,” he said. It’s taken some getting used to, as he describes himself as being typically quiet, nice and polite. There is one particular scene in which he needs to scream and be furious.

“It’s difficult for me, but I’ve worked through it,” he said.

Woods admitted that he’s started to carry some of his character’s personality with him. Never one to suffer from road rage, Woods said he’s found himself swearing at cars and other drivers.

“When I’m dealing with others, I’m the same person. But my mental thinking I think it is affecting,” he said.

Daily said actors often find themselves shifting a bit while performing particular roles.

“When you put yourself so much in somebody else’s shoes, it can’t help but affect you,” he said.

With opening night just around the corner, Pritchard said he’s excited but nervous.

“The first night is going to be really hard for me. I know it is,” he said.

But Pritchard is also confident that once he gets past the first night, it’ll be easier. Both Woods and McGrath have warned family members about the content of the play. McGrath said her parents are coming from Washington state to see her do her first play in Indiana. She knows it may be difficult for her parents to see the play.

“All in all, I think it’s more of a challenge, and it’s impressive and I’m proud of the fact that I’m able to do this,” she said.

Woods said he purposely has not invited certain people to the play knowing it will come as a shock for some to see him acting in such an aggressive way.

“That’s where the enjoyment comes into it. I don’t have to be myself,” he said. “My role is very challenging, but I guess the challenge makes it exciting. It makes me want to come back every night and work harder.”

If you go

WHAT: Ivy Tech Student Productions presents “Mr. Marmalade.”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2-3, 8-10.

WHERE: Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, 122 S. Walnut St., Bloomington.

MORE: Tickets are $15, $5 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, visit


From left, Connor Blankenship, Sarah McGrath, Paul Daily and Danny Woods rehearse a scene from “Mr. Marmalade.” Blankenship plays Bradley and is also fight captain for the Ivy Tech Student Productions show. Ivy Tech Bloomington | Courtesy photo

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.