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The Two Mr. Marmalades

Chemically Imballanced Comedy scoops Dog & Pony Theatre Company on a Chicaog premiere

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Krissy Vanderwarker is--to be polite about it--a little bummed. She's been waiting three years for her date with Mr. Marmalade and wasn't expecting to have to share him. As artistic director of Dog & Pony Theatre Company, which prides itself on staging local premieres, Vanderwarker had been chasing the Noah Haidle play--about a precocious four-year-old and her problematic imaginary companion, Mr. Marmalade--ever since Orange County's South Coast Repertory first performed it in 2004. "We have friends out there who keep an eye out, and they said, 'You have to go after this script,'" Vanderwarker says. "We got our hands on a copy, read it, and promptly started asking for the rights."

According to Vanderwarker, Dramatists Play Service withheld rights until after the play opened in New York (at the off-Broadway Laura Pels Theater in November 2005), and then a little longer, probably hoping that an Equity house might want it. Itinerant three-year-old Dog & Pony finally got the rights last spring and immediately set to work on a proposal to mount the show at the city's Storefront Theater. The city accepted the proposal in May, and Vanderwarker says Dog & Pony then announced the run in a press release and on their Web site. They also listed it in PerformInk's annual new-season guide, which came out in September. It was then they discovered their production would not be the Chicago premiere. According to PerformInk, Mr. Marmalade also had a date with Chemically Imbalanced Comedy at the Cornservatory. CIC opened their show March 22 (reviewed this week in Section 2), while Dog & Pony's will open April 5. Both productions run through the end of next month.

"We called Dramatists Play Service to make sure our contract was still valid with them, and were assured it was," Vanderwarker says. Beyond that, there wasn't much to do. Dramatists Play Service doesn't notify companies of such conflicts, and non-Equity theaters don't qualify for exclusive production rights. Even if they had qualified, Vanderwarker says, it would have been too expensive. The possibility that another production could crop up next to theirs is "a risk we take every time we do a play," she says. Since Dog & Pony was locked into its arrangement with the city, a change in lineup didn't seem feasible either. But maybe Chemically Imbalanced could be flexible? In October, Dog & Pony literary manager Jarrett Dapier e-mailed CIC to suggest, ever so diplomatically, that they consider producing their Mr. Marmalade after the D&P show closes May 5.

CIC's executive producer Angie McMahon responded with an equally diplomatic no, explaining that her company had already signed contracts with the Cornservatory and arranged for playbill advertisers. Dapier, undeterred, floated another possibility: given that Dog & Pony's mission is producing premieres, and "a lot of our funding is dependent on following through on this claim," perhaps CIC, in a charitable gesture, could postpone its production until the next year? "Is this something your company would be willing to do for us?" Dapier asked.

For McMahon, history was repeating itself. In early 2006, CIC got the rights to Christopher Durang's Betty's Summer Vacation for a September production, then discovered that Infamous Commonwealth Theatre would be producing it on exactly the same dates. In that case McMahon backed off, substituted another Durang play in her lineup, and turned the potential conflict into a four-theater Durang minifestival, cooperatively marketed. This time, she says, "I wasn't willing to change my season again--nobody's willing to change their season for me, and we had already started our marketing. I asked if Dog & Pony wanted to do a cross-promotion--you go see one Marmalade, come to another for $5 off or something--but they weren't interested." That was the end of it.

McMahon notes that Dog & Pony is getting some pretty nice perks for its show: free marketing by the city and a League of Chicago Theatres "Theater Thursdays" slot that she coveted. Besides that, she says, some reviewers seem to be ignoring the first two weeks of her show, perhaps biding their time until they can file double reviews. Vanderwarker, who says her schedule won't allow her to take in CIC's production, is trying to put it out of mind. "This would have been our fifth premiere in a row," she says. "But we've been in love with this script and chasing the rights for so long, we're just going to keep focused on what we're doing and our interpretation."

McMahon thinks the venues will appeal to different audiences: people who want a "big evening" downtown wouldn't come "slumming in the boroughs," she says. But maybe, drawn by the chance to make comparisons (and primed by American Idol), they will. Haidle's dark comedy delivers inventive social commentary and features over-the-top characters. Which four-year-old is more annoying? Which Marmalade more toxic and delicious? Which of his personal assistants prances off with the show? With everybody wired, it seems theater companies could avoid this sort of conflict. But it might be fun.

No Place for Peace

The Peace Museum is closing at the end of April and will be homeless for an unspecified amount of time. After seven years, they're giving up their rent-free digs under the golden dome in Garfield Park. "We're not handicapped accessible, and the roof leaks," executive director Melissa McGuire says. But the main problem is that the location is too far off the beaten path: "We get great publicity for our shows, and then the people can't manage to get here."

The museum's truncated hours--now just Friday through Sunday in the afternoon--can't help. Still, McGuire claims, if you include exhibits that hang in the field house lobby, they've been getting about 10,000 visitors a year. With an annual budget of about $50,000, most of it provided by private donors, the place has been running on volunteer and contract labor. The hope is to reopen in a downtown location; McGuire says negotiations for space are under way. In the meantime, to raise funds, they're selling the work in one of their current exhibits, Claus Miller's "Signs for Peace," which incorporates the fingerprints of Nobel prizewinners. (E-mail peacemuseum@usa.com for info.)

The New Firm in Town

Publicist Cathy Taylor has left the Silverman Group to open Cathy Taylor Public Relations, which she's operating out of the dining room of her Ravenswood condo. Previously employed by Steppenwolf, Taylor expects to focus on nonprofit theater. Former boss Beth Silverman, who worked for Margie Korshak for 12 years before opening her own shop, says she's sorry to lose Taylor but not surprised: "I did the same thing, so I can understand." Taylor took two high-profile clients with her: Northlight and Writers' Theatre.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Krissy Vaderwarker, Angie McMahon photos/Mireya Acierto.

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