Terrence Mosely’s journey through the Graduate John Wells Directing Program culminated with the production of the dark comedy, Mr. Marmalade by Noah Haidle. The play centers on a 4-year-old girl, Lucy, whose imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade, leads her down a dark path that reflects the bleak realities of adulthood.
Audience members were immediately transported into a coldly whimsical world through the set made up of childhood toys.
“I don’t want to be that very dominant scenic designer, because I want to provide an environment for everyone to fit in and this is a perfect story to do this,” said set designer Chen-Wei Liao. “The set is grey, because it is a cold color, it is death. So I think the color choice matched this story and also provided this canvas for everyone.”
Actor Asa Gardiner found the experience of playing Lucy’s new childhood friend, Larry, akin to a turtle peeking out of its shell.
“To the children of this world, there is no difference between trauma that is real and trauma that is imagined,” he said. “In this way, they are much like adults.”
It was through a collaborative rehearsal process that this play, one that deals with adulthood, trauma and depression, could garner a sense of playfulness and specificity. Speaking with Mosely, one gets the sense that this was a learning experience for all involved.
Drama: Why did you choose Mr. Marmalade as the capstone for your time at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama?
Terrence Mosely: Understanding this play is taking several steps back from it, because I read it and I thought, I don’t know how to do this so I should do this. And I didn’t start out like that here. I was very tentative and scared of being wrong. I’m not afraid of being wrong anymore. Failure is awesome. This taught me to fail and connect.
Drama: How was your journey as artist up until your enrollment in the John Wells Directing Program?
TM: I did my undergrad at Syracuse in the BFA acting program. After I graduated I took a year off, I lived in Columbus for a bit, did regional theater there, then decided to move to Chicago. Chicago was fantastic for me as a developing artist of color. There was a large community of color and that work was very strong. The big changing point for me was getting involved with Steppenwolf and at first I got to assist on this weird project with the BBC and the ensemble so it was like Tracy Letts and Amy Morton and all the key ensemble members. A casting director who became the Associate Artistic Director at Steppenwolf told me, “I want to help you.” So she got me involved in the School at Steppenwolf that summer and it went really well so they invited me back for two more summers. There are plenty of talented actors of color, but there aren’t a lot of producers or directors of color, so I turned my focus to directing, plus I was really enjoying the process of helping an actor through making discoveries about a character.
Drama: What have you learned during your time in the program?
TM: I’ve always been a feeler, like a pretty sensitive person, and I had this mentor who had this mantra, “Think with your heart, feel with your brain.” And I was always good at thinking with my heart, but I think what this place has taught me is how to feel with my brain, how powerful research, discipline and structure can be in someone’s practice. I think Mr. Marmalade was largely the result of feeling with my brain. When I think back to my first year and how I held onto ideas and saw them as objects I had to keep forever, compared to now, I’m much more like, Okay, Got to let that go. It’s sad to see it go, but I let it go in lieu of something else that tells this thing better.
Drama: What message did you want to leave audiences with after the performance?
TM: My work is about how representational works like The Three Musketeers, or Mr. Marmalade, or anything you watch on television or on our stages informs our real life. I am a product of hours and hours of television watching and media. I want to create work that is entertaining, but also makes you think about the world you’re involved in, and makes you want to shift that world. I want people to think about the systems they’re involved in, and what it means to be in a system, and how easily we buy into systems that oppress us.
Written by Lauren Wimmer