courtesy photoKhris Lewin

courtesy photoKhris Lewin

‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol’ misses Dickens

During a season when many theaters trot out their usual holiday cash cows, it’s refreshing that the Marin Theatre Company, rather than repeating last year’s hit “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” is presenting Tom Mula’s 2001 take on the Dickens standby “A Christmas Carol.”

Of course, adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” abound, but Mula’s is unique: a high-energy, low-tech ensemble piece in which four actors play various roles and in which the familiar morality tale unfurls from Jacob Marley’s point of view.

When Marley (a convincingly anguished Khris Lewin) arrives in hell bound in chains, a grumpy bookkeeper (the amazingly transformative Stacy Ross) assigns him to redeem his old partner, Scrooge. Maybe if he accomplishes the task, he’ll be released from hell.

He is aided by a bogle, a mischievous, mythical creature (Rami Margron, lithe and acrobatic).

Scrooge (Nicholas Pelczar, pale and glowering in a white nightgown and cap) proves, as expected, to be hostile, but over the course of almost two hours, Marley — alternately discouraged and persistent — conjures up the requisite three ghosts to frighten and sway him.

The strong ensemble takes on various roles, including a narrating chorus, the ghosts and, briefly, a few familiar Dickens characters.

Under Jon Tracy’s imaginative direction, the actors conjure a spooky atmosphere with little more than hand-held flashlights (evocative lighting design by Kurt Landisman).

A recurring shadowy form on an upstage screen — no spoilers here — is especially dramatic. It’s one instance where playwright Mula enriches Dickens’ theme quite effectively.

But although he has seized upon an intriguing concept, Mula hasn’t done much more with it than parallel the original tale. That it’s told from Marley’s viewpoint isn’t especially meaningful, since Marley’s journey to save his immortal soul basically follows the same trajectory as Scrooge’s.

It’s just that Marley’s dead, while Scrooge — not so much. So we get fragments of Dickensian dialogue, along with Mula’s own writing that traces Marley’s (somewhat overlong) attempt to reform the heartless old miser.

We also miss an emotionally satisfying sense, scriptwise, of precisely what prompts Marley’s personal attitude adjustment (although Lewin’s awkward, experimental attempt to laugh is hilarious).

There are some magical scenes along the way, thanks to this fine production. However, ultimately it feels pretty much like “A Christmas Carol,” but without enough of Dickens’ captivating language, nor his wonderfully funny and touching characters.

REVIEW

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol

Presented by the Marin Theatre Company

Where: 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 22

Tickets: $36 to $58

Contact: (415) 388-5208, www.marintheatre.orgartsJacob Marley’s Christmas CarolMarin Theatre CompanyTom Mula

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Second grader Genesis Ulloa leads students in an after-school community hub in a game at the Mission YMCA on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF parents face school year with hope, trepidation and concern

‘Honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it’

Health care workers in the intensive care unit at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, with Alejandro Balderas, a 44-year-old patient who later died. Even in California, a state with a coronavirus vaccination rate well above average, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has nearly doubled in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. (Isadora Kosofsky/The New York Times)
Why COVID took off in California, again

‘The good news is: The vaccines are working’

Lake Oroville stood at 33 percent full and 40 percent of historical average when this photograph was taken on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Tribune News Service)
A kayaker on the water at Lake Oroville, which stands at 33 percent full and 40 percent of historical average when this photograph was taken on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Oroville, Calif. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Tribune News Service)
Facing ‘dire water shortages,’ California bans Delta pumping

By Rachel Becker CalMatters In an aggressive move to address “immediate and… Continue reading

Most Read