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Mr. Marmalade 

The NOLA Project returns with another dark comedy

Mr. Marmalade

8 p.m. Thu.-Sun.; through Aug. 23

Le Petit Theatre, Muriel's Cabaret Theatre, 616 St. Peters St., 522-2081;

Tickets $20

click to enlarge Mr. Marmalade is about the perverse relationship between Lucy - (Natalie Boyd) and her imaginary adult friend (A.J. Allegra).
  • Mr. Marmalade is about the perverse relationship between Lucy (Natalie Boyd) and her imaginary adult friend (A.J. Allegra).

N ot every theater production's rehearsal schedule begins with a night split between jazz and strip clubs. But the first night of work for Mr. Marmalade did last Monday, when director Andrew Larimer gathered the principals of the dark comedy — about a disturbed young girl and her wildly inappropriate, imaginary adult male friend — for a night of jazz and lap dances.

  "Mr. Marmalade is always promising Lucy these sort of date-like trips," Larimer says. "To build the dynamic, Mr. Marmalade (A.J. Allegra), his personal assistant and I put on suits and went out with Lucy (Natalie Boyd). We went to Irvin Mayfield's jazz club, but Mr. Marmalade disappears on Lucy all the time, so we slipped out to Rick's Cabaret."

  How did that go?

  "A.J. felt guilty about abandoning Lucy," Larimer says. "He's going to have to learn to be more callous."

  Since its launch in 2005, the NOLA Project has shown an affinity for contemporary dark comedies, including Martin McDonagh's blood bath, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and its last show at Le Petit, Poona the F*ck Dog in December 2008. The company has staged a diverse range of plays, including Moliere's The Misanthrope and contemporary works like Caryl Churchill's Cloud Nine.

  Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade is an alternately humorous and haunting work about an emotionally disturbed 4-year-old girl who has created a hard partying, irresponsible man as an imaginary friend and talks with him about sex, drugs and adult vices she has been exposed to in varying degrees. The comedy is wicked and at times unnerving, but Larimer also thinks it resonates at a time when children are exposed to mature subjects at ever younger ages.

  Larimer also hopes the provocative material appeals to new and young theater goers. Building both an art community and an audience of 20- and 30-year-olds are two of the company's goals.

  "I had a lot of people come to Poona and tell me it was the first play they had seen," he says. "We try to focus on the experience, not just doing a show on stage. At Poona, we served shots (during the intermission). At Mr. Marmalade, maybe we'll have white Russians and cookies."

  Upgrades at Le Petit are helping the NOLA Project reach younger audiences. Tickets are now available online — in the main theater, specific seats can be reserved — and director Gary Solomon Jr. has noticed tickets for the show have been purchased as late as 3 a.m. Larimer also is pushing to maintain discounts for students and artists to keep shows affordable. Solomon wants Le Petit to reach all audiences with appropriately priced tickets.

  Solomon, Larimer and Allegra share another common bond. Solomon and Larimer met at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, and both went to New York University, where they met Allegra. And all moved to New Orleans to rebuild the theater scene following Hurricane Katrina.

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