The University of Central Oklahoma’s Department of Theatre Arts recently was invited to present its production of the dark comedy “Mr. Marmalade” from its 2010 season at the regional Kennedy Center for American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) later this month in Amarillo, Texas.

The KCACTF is a nationwide program that promotes college theater production. Last year, more than 1,300 shows participated.

“It is a tremendous honor to represent the university at this very prestigious festival,” said Daisy Nystul, director of the production and chair of UCO’s theater department, in a release.

“Mr. Marmalade” was one of six productions judged to be the best in the region by the KCACTF.

Before taking the show on the road, the department will stage two encore performances for the public, Friday and Saturday at the Pegasus Theater on the UCO campus in Edmond.

Nystul said “Mr. Marmalade,” not for the faint of heart, is a darkly comic exploration of growing up today.

Written by Noah Haidle, it tells the story of 4-year-old Lucy (played by college student Summer Nolan), a girl with a very active fantasy world that includes her neglectful imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade (Chris Damen).

An emotionally vacant character, Marmalade sports a cocaine addiction and a suitcase full of sex toys, and is occasionally prone to violence. Lucy’s only real friend, Larry (Tyler Dalton Pipkin), is the youngest suicide attempt in the history of New Jersey.

Damen said that he initially had some reservations about taking the part of Mr. Marmalade.

“I never thought I would be capable of portraying this character, not just because of the subject matter, but because when I read it, I just couldn’t connect with him very well,” he said. “This was ultimately the biggest challenge for me as an actor so far. And also the most rewarding.”

Nystul said that taking a production like this on the road is an expensive endeavor, but the cost is worth it. As a participant in the regional KCACTF festival, “Mr. Marmalade” is eligible for a range of benefits for faculty and students, including scholarships, internships, grants and awards.

Participants at the regional festival are also considered for the national festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., later in the spring.

Resurrecting the production for the upcoming festival means that the cast is getting a second crack at this difficult material, building upon its prior work.

“Nearly all of my fellow cast members have said the greatest benefit of this encore is the chance to add more layers to their characters,” Damen said.

“They have all grown as actors,” Nystul said. “Their performances were terrific last year, but they are extraordinary now.”

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