By Daniel Skora
There is perhaps no other character in fiction that deserves to have his or her story told more thoroughly than Jacob Marley. Marley is a pivotal character in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, and though he appears but briefly at the onset of the story, both his relationship with Ebenezer Scrooge and his ability to offer his former partner a chance at redemption are critical. He appears as a ghostly apparition, carrying a heavy load of chains and cashboxes and facing an eternity of wandering the world for the miserly way he conducted his life and his business. He’s a wretched creature indeed, more to be pitied than feared or despised. If redemption is achievable by Scrooge, who has added an additional seven years of bad behavior to his discredit, why isn’t redemption also a possibility for Marley?
The Dio Dining and Entertainment is currently presenting “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”, playwright Tom Mula’s reimagining of the “Christmas Carol” story from Marley’s point of view. The story relates events that happen before, during, and after his appearance to Ebenezer Scrooge.
After his death, Marley (Matthew Wallace) finds himself standing before a character referred to as The Record Keeper (Mark Vukelic). The Record Keeper is a kind of secular St. Peter, a person who determines where the soul of a person should go after they die. Marley, of course, doesn’t have much recorded in his book of good deeds, so it seems pretty obvious where he’s headed. But Marley pleads his case well, and as a result is given a chance to have his punishment mitigated. That chance, however, hinges on an almost impossible assignment: return to earth and save the soul of Ebenezer Scrooge (Victor McDermott). To help him with his task, he is provided with the services of The Bogle (Elizabeth Fritsch), a kind of tinker bell with attitude who will guide him on his journey.
Marley journeys far and wide, to heaven and to hell and all places Christmas Carolish in between. His adventures as scripted in Mula’s text would most certainly make for exciting theatre except for this: from its inception, “Marley” was meant to be staged lean and mean, a “show in a suitcase” as described by playwright Mula who initially played all the parts himself in the early years of the play’s production. By necessity, the minimalist tradition continues. This poses problems when “Marley” is performed on a stage instead of a park or an intimate indoor space. “A Christmas Carol” is all about spectacle and the various locations that have made Dickens’ little book a classic. Mula’s script and the poetic imagery found in it may make for great bedtime reading, but it leaves much to be desired when the play is performed on a large stage with those “show in a suitcase” restrictions placed upon it.
What saves this production is its very talented cast, and for them alone the play is worth seeing. Wallace is terrific as Marley, nicely capturing his many moods while speaking like a true Brit in his affected accent. Vukelic as The Record Keeper is a scene stealer when he’s onstage, with a voice and persona that would do a Harry Potter film proud. And if you’re going to tour of worlds both nether and otherwise, you couldn’t do better than to have Fritsch as the lovable and rascally Bogle for your guide. The character of Scrooge is perhaps the least successful of the four major ones, with much of Ebenezer’s growl lessened by Mula’s script and the ponytailed and sweater-clad McDermott not visually filling the bill. None of clothes worn in the show, by the way, reflect the costumery of the period.
There are other problems with Mula’s script, one being the fact that you never quite cozy up to Marley as either personality or hero, another being that he finds himself laboring against the more dominant characters of the Bogle and The Book Keeper.
“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” marks the professional directorial debut of one of the area’s favorite actresses. Sonja Marquis has been entertaining audiences with characters both likeable and laughable over dozens of shows. Here, assisted by Molly Cunningham, she manages to craft an appealing production that manages to minimize several of the play’s knotty requirements.
Set, lighting, and sound design are by Matt Tomich. Costumes are by Norma Polk, props courtesy of Eileen Obradovich. Chef Jared provides a holiday-themed buffet for this production, with roasted turkey breast and sliced ham with pineapple on the menu along with the usual potato, vegetable, and salad.
“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” runs through December 31st. For tickets and information call the Dio at 1.517.672.6009 or go online at www.diotheatre.com. The Dio Dining and Entertainment is located at 177 E. Main Street in downtown Pinckney.