ShowMag - December 2003

Marley's Ghost

By Terri Roberts
*Critic's Choice*

The spirit of Christmas may be alive and well, but the spirit of Jacob Marley is having one dickens of a time understanding what the hell is going on. The miserable miser has suddenly found himself standing at his own grave, arguing with a mute, but comical, Phantom (the extremely entertaining Richard Augustine) who has the unenviable task of convincing the crotchety old man that he really is dead.

Marley (Keythe Farley, properly pompous and indignant) reluctantly follows the Phantom throughout the cemetery, with the audience trailing along behind both of them like a group of wandering lost souls. Circle X has built its reputation on being inventive, provocative, and nourishing of an off-kilter sense of humor and an unabashed theatricality--all of which come into play in director Matthew Bretz's eerie environmental staging of Jeff Goode's original tale, Marley's Ghost, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Actors subtly tucked into shadows or crouched behind tombstones add to the already haunting atmosphere by making cricket noises and owl cries, or by howling at the moon. And, at times, they emerge to guide their wary visitors along the way with open flame lanterns and an enormous chain (much like the one Marley eventually dons: part of his not-so-gay apparel), while softly singing Christmas carols in the chill night air.

When the quarrelsome Marley is finally led by the Phantom to the cemetery's coldly elegant mausoleum, he faces sentencing by a fanciful celestial court for having never changed his wicked ways. Marley bickers, banters, and barters with the commanding Giant Spirit (a marvelous Johanna McKay) and a feisty Diminutive Spirit (the excellent, and thoroughly engaging, Kevin Fabian) in an effort to escape eternal torment and redeem the remains of his atrophied soul.

Goode's clever and often witty script lifts elements from A Christmas Carol to construct an independent, plausible history behind Marley's ghostly Christmas Carol visit to his more well-known business partner and fellow skinflint, Ebenezer Scrooge. He receives superb support in this endeavor from Paul Hepker's spine-tingling soundscape, and Geoff Korf's magical lighting effects. Equally impressive are the costume and production designs by Cynthia Herteg and Gary Smoot, respectively, that ground the show in Victorian England and then give it a whimsical fantasy overlay reminiscent of Lewis Carroll.

Marley's Ghost is the first production under the new artistic leadership of the Circle X company, and experiencing it is like getting the preciously perfect gift for Christmas. May it take another cue from A Christmas Carol and return year after year after year.

Marley's Ghost, presented by Circle X Theatre Company at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd. (use Gower Ave. gate at Gower and Willoughby), Hollywood. (323) 461-6069. Fri. - Sat. at 8 p.m.; $20. Special added perfs. Suns, Dec. 7 and 14 at 8. Closes December 20.

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