Curtain Up Los Angeles - November 27(?), 2003

A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Marley's Ghost
By Jana Monji

You know from the store decorations and advertisements that it's not too early to be thinking about Christmas. And with Christmas in America come numerous versions of Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol..

Scrooge appears as a cartoon character, a woman or a man and in various eras. He's part of an American holiday celebration. But what about his poor partner, Jacob Marley? Why didn't he get a chance for redemption? Circle X's answer is a world premiere of Jeff Goode's Marley's Ghost, a moving theatrical event that has audience members trudging across Hollywood's Forever Cemetery. Be forewarned: Dress warmly and wear sensible shoes because if being amongst the graves doesn't give you a chill, the cold night air and even a few late autumn showers will.

Passing amongst the monuments you see shadowy figures darting about. A few are singing Christmas carols but our guides lead us past them to a tall thin man dressed in vaguely Victorian clothes holding an umbrella against the rain (a stagehand aiming the constant stream of a hose). He stands before a crude wooden cross. In front of the cross is a burlap sack and it isn't empty.

Scrooge (Bob Clendenin) bickers, first with the reverend (Todd Sible) over the fee for the comically brief funeral service and later with the gravedigger's wife and the mute gravedigger (Emma Barton and Ahmad Enani) over the price of digging a grave in the hard, frozen ground. He insists that they quotee him a cheaper price during the summer?

What the story is really about is the newly dead Marley (Keythe Farley) who, after freeing himself from the burlap bag, must be convinced by the phantom (Richard Augustine dressed in a moppish black costume that could claim Cousin It as inspiration) to comprehend the situation. Eventually, Marley is brought to a surreal court administered by a gigantic spirit (Johanna McKay) who quite literally has a right hand and a left hand man (Anthony Backman and Ross Mackenzie). The prosecutor is a diminutive spirit (Kevin Fabian) and the phantom, mute except for a Harpo Marx-esque honking horn, is the defense.

Director Matthew Bretz almost makes this mix of comical Victorian and surreal Lewis Carroll fantasy work, but Goode's script has an indecisiveness that mars the otherwise imaginative addition to the Scrooge holiday lore. The tone is too schizophrenic to make the transitions somooth. Goode replays and re-interprets scenes from Dickens' story, but adds his own connections and motivations. Marley is now Bob Cratchitt's uncle. His sister died soon after childbirth and the father is off wandering about America. If this were a movie, that alone would be a sequel foreshadowing but here it is a loose thread in the loosely knit, tongue-in-cheek tale.

Bretz's staging is imaginative and the setting, which has most of the action take place in the white marble crypt where the remains of Valentino resid, e certainly enhances the proceedings. . The audience doesn't get to visit the tango-dancing legend nor does he make an appearance. Instead, the courtroom scene takes place in the main room of the crypt with white marble statues of the apostles looking on. But if we could have only ended the story there, in the court.

The theatrical magic is broken by a , muddled ending that has the actors leading the audience out of the crypt, remove their costumes and give commentary on the play. Then Goode attempts to re-introduce thm into the theatrical framing by bringing back Tiny Tim (David Paul Wichert), his mother (Rebecca Avery) and Marley for a Merry Christmas happy ending. Staged in a solitary spot a short walk away from the crypt, t his is sort of like going behind the scenes of Disneyland, stripping away the magic -- and then trying to reclaim our ignorance.

Yet for all it's faults, Marley's Ghost is a worthy addition to the Scrooge holiday lore and this production is a delightful visit to both a Hollywood tourist site and a magical meeting of the wacky imagination of Goode via Charles Dickens and the creative minds behind Circle X.

Marley's Ghost
Writer: Jeff Goode
Director: Matthew Bretz
Cast: Marley (Keythe Farley), Scrooge (Bob Clendenin), Phantom (Richard Augustine), Mrs. Crachitt (Rebecca Avery), Right Hand (Anthony Backman), Gravedigger's wife (Emma Barton), Gravedigger (Ahmad Enani), Diminutive Spirit (Kevin Fabian), Bob Cratchitt (Matt Ford), Widow (Jennifer Kays), Mrs. Fezziwig (Ally LoPrete), Left Hand (Ross Mackenzie), Gigantic Spirit (Johanna McKay), Reverend (Todd Sible), Tiny Tim (David Paul Wichert).
Costume Designer: Cynthia Herteg Sound Designer: Paul Hepker
Light Design: Geoff Korf
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.
Hollywood's Forever Cementary, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 461-6069.
Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. ends Dec. 20.- $20
Review of Nov. 16 performance.