Imaginary People Are Alive

Michael C. Hall assumes the title role as the figment of a little girl’s fantasies

Michael C. Hall lives nowadays where Tribeca touches on Chinatown, and had never heard of Noah Haidle until he opened a script by him on a flight from Los Angeles to New York.

Noah Haidle, playwright, lives in Washington Heights, and had never seen the “Six Feet Under” television series that brought Michael C. Hall’s talent and sensitivity to the fascinated awareness of untold numbers of fans.

Mamie Gummer is an actress who had probably heard of both of those people.

The play that brings all three of them together begins with a four-year-old girl in a pink tutu, playing house with a well-dressed grown man who is a figment of her imagination and whom she will marry. His name is Mr. Marmalade, he carries a briefcase, and he’s always in a rush. Her name is Lucy. He and she will marry, set up house, and have a baby. The baby will do a lot of bawling and the play will tighten like a knot and proceed, step by logical plainspoken four-year-old step, into uncharted, unnerving territory.

The play also involves a five-year-old boy named Larry—Lucy’s best friend—with bandages on his wrists. He’s the youngest suicide attempter in the history of New Jersey. Lucy teaches him how to play doctor. Two other characters are Lucy’s mother, Sookie, who has a rather undiscriminating taste in men, and a somewhat square, self-effacing chap named Bradley, who is Mr. Marmalade’s personal assistant.

The play is called “Mr. Marmalade” It is the most original drama in the most original voice that this auditor has come across in some time. 

“Where this play started,” said Noah Haidle the other day, “is when I had just started at Julliard in the fall of 2002, and had just met my girlfriend, Gillian Jacobs, who is still my girlfriend, and she said she had always wanted to be in a play wearing a tutu.

“The stage picture I began with was of a girl in a tutu and a man in a suit. This got born out of that. I then had the question: Who was the man in the suit and what was he doing there with the girl in the tutu? And there you are, off to the races…”

Michael C. Hall’s wife is the actress Amy Spanger.

“Amy and I are finally back in New York after a lot of long-distance traveling,” Hall said the other day.

“My agent called me when I was still in Los Angeles. He gave me this script to read on the way to New York. I was really taken by it,” said the actor who has caused so many people to be taken by the complicated introverted, outed David Fisher he’d created in that TV series. “I was sort of leaning forward in my seat as I read.”

The only person in the cast whom Hall knew before signing on was David Constable, who plays Bradley, the non-entity who has to take care of Mr. Marmalade’s laundry and appointments

“David and I worked together in the park in ‘Henry V,’” Constable said. “It was actually my first job out of graduate school. I played Warwick and understudied Henry [Andre Braugher]. Had a snowball in Hell’s chance of going on in that part…”

Noah Haidle somehow conveys intensity and casualness all in one person.

“Right from the beginning,” he said, “I saw Lucy as a very young girl wearing a tutu. I can’t remember the writing process. It seems to me it always existed, you know.”

Where did the name Mr. Marmalade come from?

“I knew I wanted it to have three syllables. And I knew I wanted it to start with M. So I went through all the M’s in the Oxford English Dictionary—marshmallow, magnificent, et cetera, all 30 or 40 or 50 of them. Finally hit on Marmalade. It was Gillian who came up with Cactus and Sunflower as the name of two other little boys in the show—Larry’s friends.”

Speaking of Larry, Mr. Haidle, did you ever know any suicides?

“I do. But that’s not the reason. It just seemed the way to go.”

He paused, then said, “The more I learn about writing, the more you can’t write like anyone except yourself. Tone is immutable.”

Hall was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, February 1, 1971. His father, William Carlyle Hall, who worked for IBM, died when Michael was 11. Janice Styons Hall, Michael’s mother, is head of guidance and dean of students at a high school in North Carolina.

“She’s seen me bare my ass with a red swastika on it,” says the actor who’d succeeded Alan Cumming as the leering emcee of the Roundabout “Cabaret” here in New York. So David Fisher of “Six Feet Under” was not that much of a shock.

Hall’s schools were Earlham College, in Richmond, Indiana, and New York University, MFA, 1996, under acting teacher Ron Van Liu. Prior to that, Hall “had no idea what I wanted to be. I said ‘lawyer,’ just to get people off my case. I grew up literally thinking that people in theater and films came from another planet.”

He and Spanger met auditioning for the national tour of “Rent,” directed by Michael Greif, who directs “Mr. Marmalade.”

“She got the job, I didn’t.”

They’ve since worked together on stage in Broadway’s “Chicago” and in a play called “R Shomon” at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts.

The four-year-old Lucy at the Laura Pels is 22-year-old Mamie Gummer, who happens to be Meryl Streep’s daughter. How to ask this, diplomatically: Had Gillian Jacobs, who portrayed Rosemary Kennedy in Haidle’s “Women and Criminals,” written by him as an undergraduate at Princeton, not perhaps wanted to play the part of Lucy in “Mr. Marmalade”?

“Hmmmm,” said Gillian’s boyfriend. “That’s what they call a sticky wicket.”

Jacobs is from Pittsburgh. Haidle is from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was born October 16, 1978. The name is pronounced High-dl, as in Heidelberg, its original form. His father, Marc Haidle, is a radiologist, his mother, Andrea Translue, has a master’s in psychology.

“Our lead actress [Gummer] is shooting a movie today,” Haidle said on a pre-preview rehearsal afternoon. “So I’ve been filling in, wearing a tutu. After this interview with you, I’ll be going back down [the theater is down several flights of stairs] and putting on my tutu.”

Not too many people on West 46 Street would even notice. But Bradley, Mr. Marmalade’s man’s man, would cluck his tongue, and Sookie, Lucy’s mom, who doesn’t approve of Lucy, would probably have a fit.

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