Saturday, December 12, 2015

"Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" at Park Square Theatre

A few days ago I said, 'tis the season for holiday shows. At the time I had seen five shows with Christmas or winter themes (Christmas in the Airwaves and A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas at Lyric Arts, Penumbra Theatre's Black Nativity, Snow Queen at Park Square Theatre, and Walking Shadow's A Midwinter Night's Revel). But now it truly 'tis the season - I'm seeing five holiday (ish) shows in four days this weekend! Park Square was nice enough to let me attend a preview of Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol (playing downstairs from the magical and musical Snow Queen) so I could fit everything in. And even though I'm not seeing the Guthrie Theater's large and luscious production of A Christmas Carol this year (it's pretty much the same show as last year, read my thoughts about it here), I've seen it 10 of the last 12 years and I love Dickens' story of redemption and second chances. This one-man-show tells that same story but with much less pomp and circumstance. It's less of a spectacle and more of a simple story, but with the same humor and heart.

As I mentioned, this is a one-man-show, and that one man is Dane Stauffer. Except that he's not just one man, he's many men, and a few spirits. With a different voice, accent, and stance, he transforms from Marley into many other characters including a helpful bogle, the trio of Christmas ghosts, his younger self, his father, Bob Cratchit, and of course, Scrooge. But Marley is the hero of this story and, like Scrooge, undergoes his own journey of self-reflection that leads to a revelation about the true meaning of life. Sent to a very unpleasant place upon his death due to his selfish, cruel life, Marley's plea bargain to escape this eternal sentence is to transform the cruelest heart of all, that of Ebeneezer Scrooge. With the help of the bogle, he accomplishes this impossible task in the story we know so well. But in transforming Scrooge, he transforms himself, and not only escapes that hellish sentence, but finds a purpose in the afterlife. God bless us, every one, even Jacob Marley!

Dane Stauffer (photo by Petronella J. Ttsma)
Park Square's Artistic Director Richard Cook directs this show and designed the most basic of sets - a black stage empty except for four tables of varying heights, a candle, a book, and a goblet. That leaves plenty to the imagination, which Tom Mula's words easily and poetically fill in. The tables become stools, desks, or a perch high above the city. The direction, Michael P. Kittel's lighting design, and Dane's engaging performance all help to set the tone of each part of the story and differentiate the characters. A particularly lovely effect is the use of a small light to represent the tiny bogle spirit, who eventually floats up to the sky with the other stars.

A Christmas Carol is one of the most iconic stories of the season, one that's so rich there's more to explore than just Scrooge's side of the story. If you think A Christmas Carol has nothing left to say that hasn't already been said, you might want to hear Marley's side of things. But hurry, this short run ends on December 20. And if you'll excuse me, I have to move on to my next holiday show! (Read about all the holiday shows I've seen this year here.)