Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Different Spin on Jacob Marley in
Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol

Also see Richard's reviews of A Christmas Carol

(l-r) Chris Carlone, Warden Lawlor, Carole Swann, and Stuart Bousel
Actors Theatre of San Francisco is presenting Tom Mula's Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol in their small band box theatre called Stage II at 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco through December 19th. This is not the usual Dickens story that one sees every Christmas. This time, Scrooge's partner Jacob Marley partner tells the story of that faithful 24th of December night. According to Tom Mula's drama, Jacob got a raw deal in the classic tale since Scrooge is redeemed while poor Marley stays in chains. The playwright thought this was very unfair so he wrote his version of the story as told from Marley's point of view.

Tom Mula is an award-winning actor and playwright who has performed Scrooge in over 400 performances of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. When a friend's daughter told the actor that is wasn't fair that Jacob be condemned for eternity while Scrooge got a new chance at life, Mula decided to right the injustice. His 1995 book became a best seller and he adapted it into a one-man show in which he played the partner of the curmudgeon. It was broadcast on PBS in 1998 and won the prestigious AFIM Indie Award from NPR. Mula later converted the show into a full play, and Actors Theatre is presenting that version with four top class actors with excellent British accents.

As the narrator quotes in the original Dickens 1868 text:

Marley was Dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by he clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to'.

And so the story begins, with Marley being condemned to hell, shackled by the chains of his miserly existence on earth. He is saddled with an imp called Bogle. Bogle offers Marley one chance to save his soul and the condemned man jumps at the chance to redeem himself. However, after signing the contract, he discovers the impossible task of getting Scrooge to redeem himself within a 24 hour period on Christmas Eve. Marley must come up with some sort of plan and he transforms himself into the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. An ominous black figure unbeknownst to Marley and Bogle comes into the picture as the Ghost of Christmas Future, which redeems our hero.

B. Warden Lawlor displays a great technique in his skills of acting and narration as a man who wants to get out of his contract with the devil. Carole Swann is outstanding as Bogle in a sparkling performance of a complex role in which she must be funny, witty and bitchy. Chris Carlone seems a little too young and not very curmudgeonly as Scrooge, but his acting of the part is good. Stuart Bousel, who has a voice trained for opera, is excellent as he goes from character to character, including Bob Cratchit. His various English dialects are well done.

The actors perform the two hour, one intermission work on a small stage in the bandbox theatre with only two boxes. Words and luminous dialogue are at the center of this invigorating production. If you are tired of seeing the classic Dickens story, see this alternative for a new spin on the perennial Christmas story.

Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol runs through December 19th at the Actor Theatres of San Francisco, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be purchased via and 415-296-9179. Visit for more information. Also at the theatre on the main stage is Dale Wasserman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest through December 18th.

Photo: Scott Dong

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema