Review: Marin Theatre Company’s ‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol’ (**)

Charles Kruger

(Rating: **)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” plays at the Marin Theatre Company from November 21 through December 22, 2013.)

Playwright and actor Tom Mula has played Ebenezer Scrooge over 400 times in a combined total of 16 seasons with Chicago’s prestigious Goodman Theatre and the Peninsula Players.

So it is not difficult to understand why Mr. Mula, an accomplished and reputable playwright, would want to find an alternative chestnut to roast when holiday season rolls around. He found inspiration when a friend’s ten-year-old daughter remarked that, “Jacob Marley got a raw deal.” He began to wonder about Jacob Marley’s story. Why did Marley show up to rescue Scrooge? And what happened to him after Scrooge’s redemption?

It’s quite a good premise for a play, and the story of Marley’s efforts to rise to the challenge of redeeming Scrooge in just 24 hours, and thus escape his own damnation, is spooky fun.

Unlike Dickens’ inspired original, however, Mula’s version fails to strike very deeply, and that is a disappointment.

(from l to r) Stacy Ross as the Record Keeper, Rami Margron as the Bogle and Khris Lewin as Marley in "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" at the Marin Theatre Company. Photo Credit: Marin Theatre Company.
(from l to r) Stacy Ross as the Record Keeper, Rami Margron as the Bogle and Khris Lewin as Marley in “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” at the Marin Theatre Company. Photo Credit: Marin Theatre Company.

The cast of four actors are very capable, indeed, but here they are yoked to a production concept that simply tries too hard to be cute, working an exaggerated version of “story theatre” where each actor both narrates and performs several characters, with many audience asides. It is overwhelming. By the end of the evening, I felt as though I’d been stabbed in the heart with a stake of holly while a pot of plum pudding was dumped over my head. It was all just a bit too sticky.

But enough with the bah humbug. The piece is not without enchantment, especially the magical, award-worthy light design of Kurt Landisman and Nina Ball’s clever settings. Stacy Ross is a hoot in multiple roles, especially that of a heavenly bookkeeper who seems to have wandered into Dickens’ Victorian London by way of New England and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel”.

Director Jon Tracy keeps things moving quite fast (sometimes too fast), and there are some very clever bits of staging that truly seem supernatural.

In the end, Khris Lewin’s Marley does indeed experience a moving reformation, especially in an unexpectedly intimate relationship with the Ghost of Christmas Present.

“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” isn’t quite Dickens, but is suitably festive for a Christmas outing, and I say, why not? God bless us everyone.

For further information click here.

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“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” by Tom Mula, produced by Marin Theatre Company. Director: Jon Tracy. Scenic Designer: Nina Ball. Lighting Designer: Kurt Landisman. Costume Designer: Heidi Leigh Hanson. 

Marley: Khris Lewin. Scrooge: Nicholas Pelczar. Record Keeper: Stacy Ross. Bogle: Rami Margron. 

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