Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
Also see Rob's review of Tuesdays with Morrie, Dean's reviews of The Real Nut: The True Story of the Nutcracker and My Three Angels, and Stephanie's review of Wish Upon a Star: Unauthorized Intimate Reflections with Walt Disney
To wit: Santa Fe Playhouse's production of Tom Mula's Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol offers up a wonderfully reimagined telling of Dickens' Christmas classic, cast and staged in a way that is sure to make audiences take notice. After all the years of wondering, we finally get the how and why of Jacob Marley's clanking, spectral Christmas Eve appearance in Ebenezer Scrooge's darkened chambers. It turns out that Scrooge's former business partner is dead. Actually, he's more than just dead; he's in hell. And he isn't looking forward to spending the rest of eternity there. So Marley grabs at a chance to get himself "transferred out" by agreeing to return to earth with the formidable task of redeeming ol' Ebenezer's soula soul even blacker than his own. Marley is accompanied in his 24 hour mission by a mischievous little sprite named The Bogle. It's a mission that takes a few unexpected twists and turns. But, to borrow from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: "What happens next, well that's the play. / And [they] wouldn't want me to give it away."
Director Justin Golding has taken some very nice liberties with the casting and staging of the play. He's given three spots in this four-person ensemble to female actors. One of the most enjoyable parts of the evening for me was watching Talia Pura, Linda Loving, and Karen Koestner quick-change into a variety of characters iconic to the original Dickens classic, as well as those new characters concocted by author Mula for the purpose of bringing his own version of this story to life.
Santa Fe audiences are also given the rare opportunity of seeing the Playhouse's artistic director Vaughn Irving not only exercising his acting chops, but doing so with mesmerizing precision and nuance. Irving fleshes out a Marley whose emotions range from a to zed (quite a corporeal feat for a ghost!). Gifted with all the powers of the poltergeist, including human transubstantiation, Marley becomes both the ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present: the former in the guise of a cockney lad, the latter a Scottish chap with requisite holiday spirit. For this reviewer, the most powerful and moving scene in the play involve Marley's unfortunate revisiting of his own youth and having to watch, for a second excruciating time, his mother's coffin being lowered permanently into the ground.
All of the performances are strong and engaging. Ms. Pura's portrayal of The Bogle (think Tinkerbell on steroids) is a special delight. Director Golding's decision to tell this story sparely and largely through employment of the audience's imagination is aided by the inventive lighting design of Monique Lacoste and a stage set that rises up to the starsstars that are by turns sinister and smiling: winking and blinking a la the firmament that smiles down on ol' George Bailey.
It's a treat to see a play that knows it's a play and expertly employs the tools of theatre to tell its story: a fine script, a talented director's creative hand, and actors who ply their craft with respectful attendance to every moment, word and gesture.
Only a couple of quibbles here. First, a desire to see stronger use of music and sound effects in the production. The play's ominous atmospherics are helped along by the occasional use of thunder, and music of mood-appropriate spook. I think that the clang, clink and clatter of Marley's oppressive suit of locks and chains would have been a welcome addition to this dark and stark production. Second, a bit of a slow starta script problem, which the animated cast does its best to overcome.
Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, directed by Justin Golding, is being performed at the Santa Fe Playhouse, 142 East De Vargas Street, Santa Fe. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Through December 24, 2016, with a special closing gala at 3:00 that afternoon. Info at www.santafeplayhouse.org or 505-988-4262. The running time is about two hours, including one intermission.