Ventura County Star - November 27, 2003

Dickens of a yuletide

By Jeff Favre
November 27, 2003

You know Christmas is approaching when the streets become lined with lights and stars, every TV channel is showing commercials for the best gift to get Dad and your local theater company is doing its version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" for the umpteenth time.

Nearly a decade ago, writer Jeff Goode provided an edgy alternative to the Dickens morality tale starring miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. Since then, "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" has become one of the most popular holiday shows.

This season, more than a dozen companies in America and several others in Europe will perform their versions of the darkly comic monologues recited by Santa's reindeer, all of whom have a lot to say about their less-than-wonderful boss.

Building on that success, Goode decided to add another Christmas show to his canon, this time offering a work for the mainstream crowds -- and for fans of "A Christmas Carol."

Circle X Theatre Company is presenting the world premiere of "Marley's Ghost" in the most appropriate setting possible: a cemetery.

The site-specific setting wasn't part of the script, but Goode heartily approves of director Matthew Bretz's idea.

"This is the kind of show that I think is going to become popular after a few good productions, and Circle X is a great place to start," said Goode, taking a lunch break at Disney Studios. He currently serves as an executive producer for "American Dragon," a TV cartoon he created several years ago that will premiere next season.

The idea for Goode's latest play came from a longstanding fascination with Dickens' character Jacob Marley, who comes back to warn Scrooge that if he doesn't change his ways, he will be damned to hell.

"I always wondered what motivated Marley," Goode said. "He is already damned for all eternity, so why does he help Scrooge?"

Goode provides a possible answer. "Marley's Ghost" ends where "A Christmas Carol" begins, with Marley haunting Scrooge. From there we see the same three ghosts that visit Scrooge, only they come in reverse order.

All of the same characters and locations from the original play are present, which led Goode to realize that his play could be performed in repertory with the Dickens classic.

"The ghosts take Marley to the same places as they do Scrooge," Goode said.

"For example, at the Fezziwig party, we see that Marley is in a closet with Mrs. Fezziwig," he said. "And in the scene where Scrooge breaks up with Belle, we see the scene just before that with Scrooge and Marley. And it explains why Scrooge is in such a bad mood."

The most challenging part of the script, Goode said, was writing in a style that flows seamlessly from the original Dickens text, while being easily accessible to a modern audience. He calls it "faux Dickensian."

Goode has high expectations for "Marley's Ghost," and believes it could eventually become more successful than "The Eight."

"I'm encouraging people to come to this one more than I usually do with a new play," he said.

"This is going to be one of those shows that you will want to say, 'I saw its first production,' " he said. "This show will resonate with anyone who likes 'A Christmas Carol' without feeling that the original has been corrupted in any way."

E-mail freelance writer Jeff Favre at