Unable to resist the temptation to do something Yuletide-related, Oklahoma City Theatre Company has revived Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol. In it, playwright Tom Mula has adapted Charles Dickens’ tale from the perspective of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley.
Already dead when A Christmas Carol begins, Marley finds himself in a kind of purgatory. Much to his distress, he’s informed that his only way out is to redeem Scrooge of his sins.
Directed by Doug Van Liew, the play is done in the tradition of “story theater,” where the actors narrate the story and speak the dialogue, with minimal props and costuming. It is an engaging form of theater that can be effective. Van Liew makes efficient use of CitySpace, greatly aided by Kathrine Mitchell’s spectral lighting design.
The main thing this production has going for it is the fine Don Taylor as Marley. Taylor has considerable ability and experience playing both comic and dramatic roles, and can carry the play by himself. (Mula has written a one-actor version of the script; it would be fun to see Taylor take a crack at it.)
Early on, he trills the “R” in “rubbish” to great effect: “r-r-r-rubbish.”
As part of Scrooge’s version of the story, Taylor also plays the ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, and other roles. He appears briefly as young Marley, and Mula’s script suggests that the lad had a neglected, or perhaps abusive, childhood.
Three other actors juggle multiple parts. The first among equals is Carly Conklin as the Bogle, a flighty, oracular spirit along the lines of Shakespeare’s Ariel or Puck.
Scott Hale is Scrooge and others, while Jeni White is a figure known as the Record Keeper, who opens her ledger and informs Marley of his “debits” as one who grew rich off the misfortune of others are great, while his “credits” are almost nonexistent.
To succeed, this play needs a strong ensemble so that Marley and the supporting characters are more or less equals. Van Liew seems to have let the actors fend for themselves, but the show has its merits when we’re drowning in a sea of Christmas Carols and Nutcrackers.
OKCTC also staged this work in 2005 and 2007. The first production was in Civic Center’s CitySpace, but the 2007 version was upstairs in the Freede Little Theatre. Neither was directed by Van Liew, but the latter space proved more effective.
You know how this play will end from the start, but Marley’s transformative journey parallels Scrooge’s, and it’s entertaining to go along with him.