Marley's Turn - Cape May Stage Presents "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol"
Productions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” abound each holiday season, and the tale–with the trio of visiting spirits and the almost comically-miserable Ebenezer Scrooge–is as familiar as any. But, wait… what about Scrooge’s passed-on partner, Jacob Marley? Did you ever consider what became of him?
Well, wonder no more. The answer can be found in the Cape May Stage production of Tom Mula’s “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,”through December 29 at, at the Robert Shackleton Playhouse, Lafayette and Bank Streets, in Cape May.
Tom Mula, author of the play and the original book, played Scrooge for years in the Dickens classic. Following one performance, he said, he was talking to a friend’s preteen daughter. She remarked that it seemed like poor Mr. Marley got a raw deal. Scrooge emerges as benevolent hero and Tiny Tim bestows Christmas blessings on EVERYONE. But Marley remains in chains.
In Mula’s play, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” you get the traditional story. But rather than following the progression of ghosts as they show Scrooge his past, present and future, you go along for the ride with Marley, who is offered a single chance to escape his dismal afterlife if HE can redeem Mr. Scrooge.
It’s a fascinating take on the story, but I couldn’t help but wonder why Cape May Stage chose this play for its month-long holiday presentation.
Producing Artistic Director Roy Steinberg explains, “I’ve been at Cape May Stage for five years,” he says, “and each Christmastime, we look for fresh ideas. One year, it was ‘O’Henry Christmas.’ Another year, we did ‘The Little Prince’ with life-size puppets. Our production of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ featured an actor who not only played the piano but also played all the parts. Last year, we did ‘A Tuna Christmas’ (a farcical comedy that takes place in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas).
“Once again this year, we tried something new!” he says.
Cape May Stage Directing Resident, Ben Ferber, is directing the production.
“Ben, in addition to managing the Cape May Stage intern program, has assisted the directors of other shows this year,” Steinberg says. “This production is a chance for him to direct on the main stage with equity actors and to use what he has learned,” he says. “He has done an excellent job.”
“As Directing Resident, I put together all the elements,” Ferber says. “I chose the play, the designers, the actor.”
“For me, our goal is not just to entertain, but to surprise and engage our audience,” Ferber says. “That’s why I chose this play. It’s different. And it’s very funny.”
The production stars Jonathan Brody, who has appeared on Broadway, in national touring companies, in television on “Boardwalk Empire” and in the Cape May Stage summer show, “Time Stands Still.”
Steinberg calls Brody a top-quality actor, and Ferber agrees.
“One man shows can be a tricky business for a director,” Ferber says. “But Jonathan is such a wonderful actor. His tools are what we have to work with, and his presence and physicality dictate what the show will be like.”
“This play is written in a minimalistic style,” Ferber explained, “which means the show IS the actor. He is not just telling the audience what is happening, he is embodying the story.”
Steinberg elaborates. “Brody is able to portray a myriad of characters just by the way he uses his voice and his body,” Steinberg says. “He uses all these elements to tell a story in an original way.”
“A show like this gives an actor the opportunity to show what Cape May Stage is all about,” Steinberg continues. “We celebrate the art of acting.”
A talented production team joins Brody and Ferber in bringing this tale to life, including Lisa Shames as Stage Manager; Managing Director Jon Wojciechowski as Scenic Designer; and Cyrus Newitt as Lighting Designer.
The set is the framework of a counting house, constantly being built or being taken apart.
“It is an unusual set design, with pieces of the scenery suspended over the stage,” Ferber says.
“And the set pieces are larger-than-life,” he says, “to help the actor ‘pop’ forward. It’s big and exciting and elaborate and, at the same time, a very simple environment.”
Sound and lighting are also integral to a show like this. Ferber had been a sound director in the past and said he usually does sound when he directs. “It’s a multi-step process. You read the play. You talk with the team about their vision,” he explains. “Then you take every reference to something that is heard and see how it will fit into the soundscape.”
“George Lucas said that he only used special effects to further the story,” Ferber says, “and I try to use sound the same way. It should help the audience understand what is going on.”
According to Ferber, the lighting is a significant aspect of the play, not just a way to illuminate the stage.
“Newitt’s lighting design is quite dramatic,” Ferber says. “We use the pin spot (light) a lot, to focus attention to Brody’s face.
“The lighting is actually quite Dickensian,” he continued. “It is dark and moody. But, just like ‘A Christmas Carol,’” Ferber says, “this is a dark story through which the characters learn to find the light.”
And there is one more aspect that made “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” a good choice to present at Christmas in Cape May.
“Both ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the Marley-centered version are essentially ghost stories,” Steinberg points out. “And Cape May is famous for ghosts.
“This play covers all the bases,” he says. “It’s funny. It’s family-friendly. It’s Christmas-based, and it’s got ghosts!”
“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”will be on stage through Sunday, December 29, at the Robert Shackleton Playhouse, Lafayette and Bank Streets, in Cape May. Performances are at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets are $35 for adults, $30 seniors (62+) and $15 students. For reservations and information, call the box office at (609) 770-8311 or visit the Cape May Stage website.
Cape May Stage is also presenting “The Santaland Diaries”this Christmas season. Written by the often-hilarious and always-sardonic David Sedaris, the story uncovers the consumer-driven underbelly of the holidays, as seen through the eyes of a young man who takes a job as a Macy’s elf at Christmastime. This production, as the press release states, is for mature elves only.
“The Santaland Diaries” stars actor, Brady Adair, who makes his debut in this show. Adair is supported by Producing Artistic Director Roy Steinberg as Director, Casey Oakes and Kourtnie Boeve as Stage Managers, and Amanda Palmer as Costume Designer.
The show runs through Sunday, December 29 in the Harrison Room at Congress Hall, 200 Congress Place, in downtown Cape May. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoons. Tickets are $25 for general admission.
There is a Dinner and a Show option at The Blue Pig Tavern, Thursday through Saturday night for $59, or Lunch and a Show at The Blue Pig Tavern on Sunday afternoon for $39.