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Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
Duke City Repertory Theatre

Also see Paul's review of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
Mike Ostroski
Who cares about Jacob Marley? And why would the old skinflint want to save the soul of his former partner Ebenezer Scrooge? Dickens didn't tell us, but playwright Tom Mula has fleshed out a thrilling and inspiring background story narrated and dramatized by characters identified as Actors 1 through 4. The novel version became a Chicago Tribune bestseller in 1995. The play version later won the Cunningham Prize from the Goodman School of Drama at De Paul, premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, and received four Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and an After Dark award. Since the late '90s, the play has been performed at regional theaters across the country and as a one-man show by the playwright.

Whereas the playwright makes us care about Marley, the Duke City Repertory Theatre's production, directed by Frank Green, takes us on roller coaster ride that runs the gamut of human emotions from terror to despair to grief to hope to compassion and beyond. Green has taken a brilliant script and crafted it with four talented actors into what may be the most challenging and eccentric holiday ensemble show now playing in Albuquerque. The clever slippage between telling and showing and the shifts of identities all click perfectly. Green, who serves as DCRT Associate Artistic Director, has just completed a six-year residency with Barter Theater's Equity Resident Acting Company in Virginia, where he directed and acted various leading roles.

The Actors, costumed as anonymous 19th century London bourgeois gentlemen, open their tale by telling us that Jacob Marley is most assuredly dead and faces judgment. Actor 4, bookkeeper of dead souls, informs Actor 1, Jacob Marley, that his debts are too many and his credits too few to keep him from the fires of the damned. He can escape hell only by effecting a full and free conversion of his old partner Scrooge before the next cock's crow. Marley declares it impossible. Striving for the impossible carries us and the drama rushing forward to its sparkling conclusion. We can hardly draw a breath.

Mike Ostroski gives a full throttle rendition of Marley's anguish and struggle in Mula's Shakespearean/Blakean gripping prose/poetry. He wrings himself out in Marley's after-death throes. The actor's flushed and dripping wet face on opening night left the audience breathless as he leaped across stage levels, shape-shifting in fruitless efforts to terrify Scrooge into changing his evil ways. As Actor 1 playing Marley, Ostrowski describes and performs peeling his face off like a banana to reveal the skull underneath so convincingly that we see the horror of the crypt and the fiery pits with him. For the past twelve years, Ostrowski has performed major roles at Barter Theater, where he was also a director, playwright, stage combat choreographer, and composer.

Amelia Ampuero, Artistic Director of DCRT, plays Actor 2. Recently she played the student in DCRT's production of David Mamet's Oleanna at the Filling Station. As Actor 2 she spurs Marley on as his own private hell-sprite named Bogle. She sticks with him like a life, or rather death, coach. Ampuero's Bogle provides mischievous comic relief in the midst of Marley's horror as she flits about the whole performing space critiquing his initial lame efforts to rattle Scrooge, praising his pyrotechnic scare tactics, admitting both their limits, and ultimately cheering him on. Ampuero, who has a BFA in theater from Texas Tech State University and has studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company, has brought DCRT to life this year with the help of an immensely energetic and talented ensemble of friends from across the continent.

As Actor 3, Colleen McClure not only narrates Marley's tale with the other actors but also plays a most riveting and amusing bent over, twisted face Scrooge. She almost steals the show, but fortunately all the actors rise to meet her level of brilliance. With impeccable comic timing she draws us in with her character's curiosity at Marley's antics and slaps us back with Scrooge's habitual nastiness. With degrees in drama and music from London University, McClure brings to Duke City 25 years of directing and acting in professional West End theatre and theatre education.

Justin Young plays the slightly lesser role of Actor 4 with energy and versatility. He received a theater degree from UNM in 2007 and has performed in theater in and around Albuquerque since then. He is fortunate to have DCRT actors as his mentors.

Andrew McHarney has designed a deceptively simple set out of what look like Dickens-era shipping crates of different sizes creating four different performing levels and a bookkeeper's office. Behind the desk a tangle of rusty chains rise menacingly, hoisted up and down by Actors 2 and 4 as Marley's fate plummets and rises. Rose Nuchims gives us a subtle lighting design with a variety of spots from above and red lights for hell fires and green for gruesome decay that rise up out of the middle level crate to accentuate Marley's plight.

Guy Fauchon, actor and playwright, directed DCRT's first two shows, Trust and Oleanna. He holds a BFA in acting from the University of British Columbia and MFA in directing from the University of Alabama. As Stage Manager on this production, he keeps transitions running smoothly.

Duke City Repertory Theatre is presenting Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol at the Filling Station through December 19, Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm and a matinee at 2 pm Saturday, December 18. General tickets are $20; for students, seniors, and military $12; and for children 5-12 $5. For reservations call 505-797-7081 or purchase online at www.dukecityrep.com.


Photo: Johnny Sandlin

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