One very small cast is putting on one great big play at the Academy of Performing Arts in Orleans this month: “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.” See it, even if you’re not a fan of all things Christmas, because it’s simply a whopping good piece of theater.
Directed by Peter Earle, who is the Academy’s executive and artistic director, four superb actors deliver on the literate, witty script by Tom Mula. Dressed all in black, they act out the fast-paced story on an all-black set (designed by Earle and actor Geof Newton) that is lit low, sometimes with candles, sometimes with flashlights, sometimes with a stunning background of “stars.” The lighting was also designed by Newton.
Todd Gosselin (Scrooge), Newton (The Record Keeper and a few other roles), Jefferson C. Post (The Bogle), and Rick Smith (Marley) are on stage almost all the time and had a prodigious amount of lines to memorize. Each one filled out his character(s) beautifully.
The script borrows from Dickens, of course, but also from the story line from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “Carousel” where Billy Bigelow, after his death, gets a brief reprieve to return to Earth to try to make right some of the wrong he has done.
In Jacob Marley’s case, he gets the chance to go back because in life he was every bit as, well, Scrooge-like as Scrooge: nasty, cheap and joyless. Worst of all, they never liked each other. The play is the story of how Marley’s assignment, under the more-or-less spiritual direction of a character called The Bogle, works out. Of course we already know the outcome from reading Dickens, but the twists and turns of Scrooge and Marley’s relationship, the history of Marley’s childhood, and the deepening conversation about life between him and The Bogle furnish the heart of this meaty play that preserves the humor and love for humanity that mark Dickens’s story.
This play is not a musical, but intrinsic to it is a wonderful prerecorded sound track of music and effects. The communication between the actors and stage manager/light and sound operator Ellen Birmingham was amazing. Everything happened on cue – and this was on opening night!
All four of the actors are veterans of the Academy stage and in fact appeared in this same play when Earle produced it some years ago. “I assembled my A-team,” he said, for this year’s production of the play he called “one of my favorites.”
Their diction was crisp and clear as they navigated among broad jokes, passionate arguments, floods of memories both beautiful and terrible, and the exploration of what it means to be human. Can Scrooge change? Can Marley? Can we? (Even The Bogle gets a fresh idea.)
In the end, playwright Mula takes a stand on the side of ties that bind, the importance of home and work and learning. The script takes a little too long at the end to reach the conclusion that you know it’s going to reach (after all, this is based on the Dickens classic), but the writing and acting are so good, and the staging so dramatic, that it can be forgiven.
I would not think that this play would be one for small children, but the exceptionally well-behaved little boy in the row in front of us did last the whole show (mildly aided by a treat of chocolate at intermission – as were my companion and me). With the break, the production came in at about two hours and 20 minutes.
“Marley” is not the Academy’s only seasonal offering. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will be performed at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23, and their annual winter dance show will happen at 4 on Sunday, Dec. 16 at the Nauset Middle Regional School in Orleans.
Also, “Sounds of the Season,” a musical program, will be offered at the Monomoy Room of the Chatham Bars Inn at 6 on Thursday, Dec. 20. Doors will open at 5:30 for cocktails at a cash bar. Academy performers will sing holiday tunes from “Broadway, the movies, and more!” says Academy publicity, and there will be a raffle. Tickets for “Sounds of the Season” cost $22, with a $2.25 convenience fee for online sales.
“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”
At the Academy Playhouse, 120 Main St., Orleans
Through Dec. 29, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Information and reservations: 508-255-1963, apacape.org