Pass the jelly

John Kuntz toasts Mr. Marmalade
By SALLY CRAGIN  |  July 10, 2007
inside_THEATERcol_Lucy_Marm
Rachael Hunt and John Kuntz

Mr. Marmalade | Company One at Boston Center for the Arts Plaza, 539 Tremont St, Boston | July 13–August 11 | $25-$30; $18-$25 seniors; $15-$18 students | 617.933.8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com
Boston actor/playwright/clown John Kuntz first encountered Mr. Marmalade, Noah Haidle’s
breakthrough 2004 comedy, in the pages of American Theatre magazine. “I just loved it right away,” he laughs. “There’s this little girl and Mr. Marmalade [her imaginary friend], who’s addicted to coke and pornography, and there’s this little love triangle with this boy she likes named Larry. It was funny and disturbing and right up my alley.”

At the time, Kuntz was a Huntington Theatre Company Playwriting Fellow. He raved about the play to his colleagues. “I said, ‘Have you read this? It’s great.’ And then a couple of years later, they produced [Haidle’s] Persephone, so it seems like I’m singlehandedly responsible.” He sold the author; now he gets to play the part.

Company One takes on Haidle’s improbable and provocative Mr. Marmalade beginning this Friday, with Kuntz in the title role. The premise is whimsical: Lucy — age four, but played by an adult (Rachael Hunt) in a tutu — has encounters with her imaginary friend Mr. Marmalade and with, among other characters, a pair of potted plants (also played by actors). “It’s interesting playing a character who is a figment of someone’s imagination,” muses Kuntz. “Everything I think and say, she’s conjured up. And I love how theatrical the play is — it’s not one of those plays that can turn into a film or TV show, it really belongs on the stage.”

The now 28-year-old Haidle explains that Mr. Marmalade was his first project as a graduate student in playwriting at Juilliard. It came about “because I knew a girl who wanted to wear a tutu on stage,” he says over the phone from New York. “If the play works, people forget that they’re watching a 20-year-old play a four-year-old. I like having an audience work a little harder.”

Haidle welcomes input during the rehearsal period, and he’ll adapt a character to fit an actor’s talents or quirks: “Part of the joy of being a living playwright is working with the choreography of a production.” He adds that one friend’s way of pronouncing the word “jalapeño” influenced a moment in the play.

Still, this is a young man who feels a measure of diffidence about his current — but possibly fleeting — occupation. A one-time philosophy major at Princeton, he says he realized he wasn’t “smart enough,” and that realization propelled him into the English department, where he started reading plays and then writing them himself. “I think a lot about my heroes,” he says. “Take Tennessee Williams — what if he hadn’t written during the last 15 years of his life? I hope I have the awareness to get out when it’s time.”

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