Marley Christmas

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol boasts brilliant script and cast at Blue Barn

Three Scrooges and a couple of Jacob Marleys sat around the edge of the stage and the front row as the Blue Barn cast got ready to rehearse a fascinating play that could just as well be called Marley Meets the Bogle. But the title is Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, a darker and delightfully droll story that opens by reminding us, “Marley was dead, to begin with.” For emphasis, author Tom Mula borrows from Oz and tells us that, like the Wicked Witch, he was “really most sincerely dead.” He’s lively enough, though, to demand, “Where the devil am I?” And then all hell breaks loose in the most imaginative way as Marley learns he can only get a “transfer” from this dark place if he redeems his old partner, Ebenezer Scrooge. In case you’re confused about the presence of so many Scrooges and Marleys, here’s a quick rundown: Nils Haaland, who usually tours as Scrooge for the Omaha Community Playhouse, is taking this tour off to play Marley for the Blue Barn. Nearby, another former touring Scrooge, Kevin Lawler, is directing this Marley-centered play, and his Scrooge is Doug Blackburn, who has played Marley on the main stage at the Playhouse, but now occupies one of the front row seats in the Downtown Space. Perched above him on the edge of the stage is the Bogle. You may not know him as Alan Brincks, a newcomer from Nebraska Wesleyan who performed last summer in the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival. But you won’t forget him as the Bogle, “a malicious little hell-sprite” who, “though funny,” the playwright promises, “is no Tinkerbell. He’s also mean and bitchy and powerful when he needs to be.” As for Marley, Mula says, he “needs to be pretty awful at the top” so that his change means something. The author calls Scrooge “a monster,” and admits that the Record Keeper (Scott Working) is “a little scary sometimes.” Having seen the play at the Stages of Omaha a few years ago and having just read the script, I can safely promise that it’s a sheer delight that allows the audience to imagine Marley and the Bogle perched atop the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and looking down on the London Night. We hear that: “All around Marley beings of nightmares floated by on the currents of air like exotic sea creatures. Marley felt like he was imprisoned in some hellish aquarium.” In short, Lawler has handed a brilliant script, a mix of dialogue and narrative, to a cast of four that he refers to as “on top of their game,” and claims he just enjoys “watching what these guys come up with.” For Haaland, the recent years of touring as Scrooge in the traditional version, “helps and it hurts. It helps that you know that world pretty well, but there are traps,” mainly the temptation to go to parody, “but it’s not that at all.” Blackburn, after rattling Marley’s chains at the Playhouse Scrooge, says there’s no danger of confusing that Scrooge, “which is meant to be family fare,” with his mean miser. As an old college jock, Blackburn likens the script’s way of transporting us with words to Vin Scully calling a Dodgers baseball game and putting us out there under the blue sky. It doesn’t require much more than a bare stage and it needs few props, Lawler explained. The scenic design is by Martin Scott Machitto, lighting by Bill Van Deest and costumes by Jenny Pool. A press release bills Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol as “an irreverent, funny and deeply moving story.” In this case, it lives up to the hype. After debuting at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, it was performed annually on National Public Radio and proved just as effective whether performed by four actors, as in the Blue Barn treatment, or recited by Mula alone. Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol runs Nov. 26-Dec. 18, Thurs.-Sat. 7:30 p.m. and Sun. 6 p.m. by the Blue Barn Theatre in the Downtown Space, 614 S. 11th St. in the Old Market. Tickets are $25, $20 for students, seniors, TAG members and groups of 10 or more. Call 345.1576 or visit bluebarn.org.

posted at 11:24 am
on Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

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