Fractured Fairy Tale

Princess Marjorie is the funniest play ever

Photo by Henry Di Rocco/SCRNoah Haidle's remarkable new play, PrincessMarjorie,is a fairy tale turned terribly, terribly wrong. What begins as idyllic infatuation and fantasy morphs into revulsion and violence when the object of desire reveals itself as human.

But this is less TaxiDriverthan it is Frankenstein's monster: in Haidle's obsessive world, the object itself hates its flawed nature and cooperates in its own destruction. Heavy as it sounds, PrincessMarjoriemanages to be the funniest play I've ever heard at South Coast Repertory.

Haidle is a phenomenally talented playwright blessed with a richly perverse imagination. Anyone who saw Mr.Marmaladelast year at SCR can attest to his gifts. But where that play cracked the neat, buttoned-down, well-made-play mold that SCR is known for, this play—brilliantly steered by one of America's most talented directors, David Chambers—gleefully shatters it.

Actors continually comment on the action and explain how they're approaching the moment, or storm off stage, overwhelmed by what they have to do or say next. It's a wildly frenetic, unconventional ride that begins with lavender, rose petals and teddy bears and ends with curses, slaps and remorse.

The whole story revolves around Marjorie (Khrystyne Haje) and her two younger cousins, Harper (Michael Gladis) and Charlie (Nathan Baesel). The brothers—hell, the entire town—have carried a flaming torch for their beautiful cousin for years. Her beauty may not have launched a thousand ships, but it did spark one spurned suitor to asphyxiate himself in a car.

Marjorie is finally coming home after a "very long" time. We don't know how long, just like we don't know why two grown men still sleep in bunk beds in the same room, where anyone's parents are or how old anyone really is. In most plays, those details would be plot potholes; but this isn't most plays. All that matters is that everyone loves Marjorie because she's the most beautiful creature anyone has ever seen.

But her arrival—desperately, agonizingly awaited by her cousins—is a jolt to everyone. This isn't the Marjorie they—or she—remembers. She is decaying, her beauty fading. She's grown older and can't compete with the teenage goddess she was when she left town.

Haidle's point is pretty simple: we fall in love with surfaces, but rarely with the soul within. And when cracks in those surfaces begin to emerge, we grow bitter and angry: How dareyou not be the person I want you to be? Usually, the ending of that fantasy leads to break-ups and broken hearts. In PrincessMarjorie,it leads to something far worse. The fact that the playwright, director and brilliant cast make this twisted work so entertaining is astonishing.

It's so entertaining, so astonishing, that you absolutely shouldn't miss it.

FOR MORE ON NOAH HAIDLE, SEE CORNEL BONCA'S STORY.

PRINCESS MARJORIE AT SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, 655 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 708-5555. TUES.-FRI., 7:45 P.M.; SAT.-SUN., 2 & 7:45 P.M. THROUGH MARCH 27. $27-$53, SOME DISCOUNTS AVAILABLE.

 
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