It may have really been Marley’s story all along.
That is the view taken in Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, the single-actor show in the cozy Studio at Stage West, wherein the chain-rattling former partner of the mean and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is brought to life (in a manner of speaking) in a highly entertaining and heartwarming fashion.
This seasonal tale by Tom Mula sets its sights on the ever-so-dead Marley, rather than the old grump at the counting house.
We meet him not at the foot of Scrooge’s bed, but instead in a place that looks like a cluttered old attic, which is probably somewhere between heaven and hell. He is there to be given one last chance to redeem himself by taking on the Herculean task of teaching a lesson to the business partner he left behind.
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So we see the awakening of Scrooge’s Christmas spirit from Marley’s point of view.
It is a clever and well-crafted take on Dickens’ classic story that works beautifully. Mula’s economical script does its job with an amazing completeness and celerity.
Better still, this production offers another interesting variation: All of the characters, including the title corpse, are played by the always-engaging Emily Scott Banks.
The actress, who is also known for her talents as a director, constantly shifts accents and personae as she takes Marley through his desperate efforts to save his former partner and, more importantly, himself.
The superior writing and acting offered in this piece are matched by brilliant staging, beginning with the artful direction by Garret Storms, who also designed the set (in partnership with Nate Davis) and the show’s sound.
Banks can obviously take direction as well as she can dish it out, and Storms clearly helps her bring her game up to a new level in this show.
But perhaps the single most impressive aspect of this production, which glows with all of the same dramatic, comedic and ghostly touches that graced its source material, is Davis’ inspired lighting plan. He illuminates the show’s understated set with everything from candlelight to ideally imagined projections, and all of it works to perfection.
There are times when Banks’ rapid shape and vocal shifting becomes a bit confusing, and the argument might be made that the show would be better done with multiple actors. Also, the overall tone is a bit darker than the more-sentimental original.
But, on the whole, you are not likely to find a tastier Christmas pudding at any theater this holiday season. It is the best use of this relatively new, second theater space at Stage West we have seen so far.
God bless them, every one.
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol