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Theatre Review

Actors Comedy Lab: Superior Quartet Presents the "Other Side" of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol

December 3, 2005 - Raleigh, NC:

'Tis the season. And all the ageless stories that go along with it are already being told. And that includes the perennial tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. From many a stage, and many a book, the story of the old skinflint will be told.

But suppose for a moment that the tale was told from a different point of view. Not from the point of view of Bob Cratchit; or from the point of view of the young Scrooge, dancing at Fezziwig’s; or even from the point of view of old Scrooge himself. Suppose instead that we heard the tale from the point of view of, say, the businessman who solicits Scrooge for a donation for the poor; or perhaps one of the passersby who watch Bob and Tiny Tim on their way home from church. What about the young boy who is sent to fetch that turkey “as big as me”? Scrooge’s tale might very well be the same. But we would see the entire tale from a remarkably different point of view. And we would get a new tale, as well; from a figure who holds only a minor role in Charles Dickens’ classic, but who would be able, in this tale, to tell us all of his own story, as well as Scrooge’s.

Playwright Tom Mula gives us just such a tale, as he uses the tone and setting of Dickensian London to retell Scrooge’s tale of re-entry to the human race from the point of view of a most unexpected storyteller: Jacob Marley. Who better? The man knew Scrooge better than anyone, before his death seven years prior to the events in A Christmas Carol. He is the supernatural instigator of Scrooge’s journey from a fearsome old miser to a gentle philanthropist. And those chains he bears are a tale in and of themselves; just exactly how did he come by them?

Mula masterfully uses text from the original in his own highly original work. Using a cast of only four and a set that is nearly Shakespearean in its bare-bones array of levels and ramps, Mula creates a tale that is magnificently familiar and fresh at the same time. And the current run of his play, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, is given a truly remarkable presentation by Actors Comedy Lab, under the direction of Rod Rich, on the main stage at N.C. State University’s Thompson Theatre.

There are, perhaps, as many characters in Mula’s story as there are in Dickens’. They just don’t happen to be all the same. Oh, all the main characters are still there, including the three spirits who visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve. But interestingly, since we already know the story from Scrooge’s point of view, we get this tale more from what brought Marley to this point, rather than Scrooge. In this tale, we have Marley himself (Tony Hefner); the little imp assigned to him in the afterlife, a “Bogle” (Izzy Burger); Scrooge (Scott Nagel), of course; and another spiritual being (Jerry Zieman), an angel of sorts, who is the bookkeeper of human accounts, and who informs Marley of what he must do to be free of eternal damnation. Everyone plays multiple characters, including the entire Cratchit family and narrators. But this story is even more fun than A Christmas Carol, because we don’t really know the ending to this play. Oh, we can guess ... we know part of it. We know Scrooge is saved by three visitations of spirits and he becomes the best of old merrymakers. But beyond that this tale is new. We learn things Charles Dickens never told us possibly because he never knew them!

There are multiple interpretations of Dickens’ Carol, from the annual Theatre in the Park presentation to one almost as famous that takes place in High Point. But you’ve already seen them, and you haven’t seen this one. And this one is well worth seeing, because of four exceptional actors who take on roles unusual for Actors Comedy Lab and do them extremely proud. This is a tale both funny and ferocious, terrible and touching. Hefner, as Marley, must undergo his own change in order to redeem Scrooge. He plays a dynamic extension of a minor but universally well-known character. Joined as he is by this talented cast, the result is truly astounding. And, like Dickens’ tale before it, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol is classic, timeless, and lovely. If you are interested in hearing about Ebenezer Scrooge’s classic transformation again this year, try this new work on for size. It will tickle, surprise, and delight you, like only a Christmas Carol can.

Actors Comedy Lab presents Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 8-10 and 15-17, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11 and 18, at 3 p.m. in N.C. State University’s Thompson Theatre Main Stage, corner of Dunn Ave. and Jensen Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina. $10 Thursday, $12 Sunday, and $15 Friday-Saturday, except University Theatre members get $2 discount Friday-Sunday. 919/515-1100. Actors Comedy Lab: http://www.actorscomedylab.com/next.html.