Charles Dickens's “A Christmas Carol” has been a classroom staple for well over a century, not to mention a popular story to recreate on screen and stage. However, with each adaptation – be it Jim Carrey’s, Daffy Duck's or anyone’s in between – there has remained one unanswered question; where exactly did Jacob Marley’s ghost come from?
“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” written by playwright Tom Mula, is aiming to answer precisely that question, exploring Marley’s journey through the afterlife prior to his ghostly intervention on behalf of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Krista Forster stars in various roles including that of The Bogle, a hell sprite that accompanies Marley on his posthumous journey.
“This version of Christmas Carol is unique in that it provides a peek into the otherworld that is behind those ghosts, which makes it darker and spooky, yet carries the same redemptive message of the season,” Forster said in an email.
The play, which premieres Nov. 30 at Trustus Theatre, places Scrooge on the backburner as the audience focuses instead on Marley’s story of redemption.
“The play is dark - most of it takes place in the spirit world - but ultimately it offers a bright message of hope,” said Patrick Michael Kelly, the show’s director, in an email. “I want people to focus on the message of Dickens’ story that Tom Mula’s adaptation can’t help but drive home: that we are all connected in a very tangible way, and we are all responsible for each other’s welfare.”
Kevin Bush, the marketing director for USC’s Department of Theatre and Dance, plays the lead role of Jacob Marley. He further elaborated on Kelly’s sentiment, seeing the show as a plea for all to share in each other’s riches rather than selfishly hoard them and risk an eternal, compassionless existence.
“I think it’s a perfect time in our world to receive this show’s message about having compassion and empathy for all of our fellow humans,” Bush said in an email. “Especially in these divided times, we can use some reminders to think outside of our own fenced-in existences and share our blessings with others.”
Marley’s path to redemption is a difficult one, demonstrating that second chances are possible, but require hard work and discomfort. In just 24 hours, he must liberate Scrooge, who is his former business partner and the only man more selfish than himself, from his own fenced-in existence. If he fails, Marley will lose his one shot at redemption and slowly devolve into a hellish creature made of money – the object he valued most in life.
“The delivery of the piece is also unique,” said Kelly in an email. “It is theatre in its purest form: simple, stripped down, highlighting the relationship between the actors and the audience, and focused on telling the story as clearly and courageously as possible.”
The storytelling is no doubt unique, and “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” is very much an imaginative play. Rather than relying on extravagant props, the show hopes to utilize the actors’ storytelling abilities in drawing the audience into the scenes. The characters often relay vivid descriptions of their surroundings to submerge the audience into this dark play’s twisted world, allowing them to create their own visualizations.
Indeed, the audience itself has a role to play, aided in its efforts by sound effects and lighting that Forster believes will “support the ghostly storytelling in a way that ... audiences will find engaging and exciting.”
With the Christmas season now in full swing, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” hopes to offer an alternative take on the original story that Kelly is excited for the audience to experience.
“If you’re tired of all of the usual options and you’re looking for a new Christmas classic, you should come see this play,” said Kelly in an email. “If you love a good story told by great storytellers, you should come see this play. If your idea of the Christmas spirit involves a trip to the spirit world, you should come see this play.”
"Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 22 at Trustus Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office.