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Review: Church Hill Theatre’s “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”

marley_xmasby Sarah McCarthy, Editorial Intern

I have been going to Church Hill Theatre since I was 9 years old. I have seen a wide range of productions, but ‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol’ is certainly a new breed. With a black-box theatre set and no costumes, this humble show proves to be just as charismatic as the most ostentatious one. It begins with narration, which is surprising, because there are only four actors. But it is quickly established that each actor plays many parts, switching between a character and a narrator. It is like experiencing a live book on tape. Personally, I can’t stand books on tape. After the first scene, though, I got used to the idea. It is simply a different style of theatre. The narration, I noticed, created more of a set than could have been put on the stage. There were huge spirits and children and little men inside ears, all created by physicality.

The premise of the story is based on the original plot of ‘A Christmas Carol’, but from the perspective of Jacob Marley. The product of such a clever idea is a charming script, full of beautiful language. Each of the characters is captivating, although they are somewhat interrupted by the sporadic narration. Chris Rogers (Marley) does an excellent job of differentiating his character and narrator roles. He creates an intriguing character and is at times very poignant. His physicality is well done without being overdone; he even convincingly plays a young Marley. There is certainly an expectation for the character of Scrooge, but Mr. Rogers sets the standard for Jacob. He is a perfect fit, and plays the part flawlessly and naturally. Howard Mesick plays the sarcastic Bogle; Jacob Marley’s guiding “light”. When he made his first appearance onstage, imitating a munchkin from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, I knew I was going to like him. Sure enough, he proved to be a likeable character with a sense of dry humor that served as comic relief throughout the show. Though the other three actors’ parts call for a wider emotional range, he is more consistent, which helps to create a balance.

Sheila Austrian plays the Record Keeper, and of course, narrator. She is also the shadow of Death, which is creatively and innovatively done. There is an interesting scene between her and Marley, during which she becomes larger than life, and holds him in the palm of her hand. She effectively makes herself seem larger than life through her physicality. Juanita Wieczoreck plays Scrooge, and she does it well. Her stage presence is incredible, and she demands the audience’s attention every time she speaks. She uses her body to make a distinction between Scrooge and the narrator, and that difference brings to mind the idea of the contrast between the characters and the human actors. As narrators, the actors are seemingly themselves, laughing with the audience and portraying emotion in response to the situation at hand. There is one speech in particular, near the end of the play, which is beautifully told. The imagery and colorful storytelling are compelling, and I was completely captivated. As characters, the actors bring the story to life. Overall, the cast does a wonderful job.

I highly recommend going to see ‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol’, for a contemporary take on a classic Christmas tale.

For more information visit www.churchhilltheatre.org.

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