Williamston Theatre has a rich history of presenting holiday plays that run the gamut from funny to poignant. This year’s selection, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” spans that spectrum in one show, and throws in a bit of the macabre for good measure. The play expands on Dickens’ classic, presenting the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption from the point of view of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. This alternate perspective allows playwright Tom Mula to create a compelling backstory for Marley. Mula also expands on Dickens’ themes to show how redemption is akin to a 12-step program — and the first step is recognizing that one needs to be redeemed.
The story begins with the death of Marley (Mark Colson). At his orientation to the afterlife, the Record Keeper (Patrick Loos) wraps him in the storied chains of his own making and sends him off on a Dante-like tour of his surroundings. Appropriately horrified by the tortures of the damned, Marley makes a deal with the Record Keeper. He gives Marley 24 hours to lead Scrooge to redemption. Thus begins the Christmas ghost show.
At times the story skirts triteness, as with the cutesy character of Bogle (Rosie Sullivan). Bogle, who comes of as some combination of Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Tinker Bell, is charged with assisting Marley. Through the course of the play she manipulates him toward achieving his own personal growth. The outcome is predictable, so the payoff is in the intriguing way in which the journey unfolds. Several key scenes give the play gravitas, particularly when Marley revisits his troubled childhood and his death.
Colson is absolutely mesmerizing as he transforms himself into a small child, terrified and trembling as he approaches his abusive father. He quickly ages into an old man, the horror of his wasted life hitting him full force as Scrooge (Ruth Crawford) betrays him and Marley realizes his pursuit of money was for naught.
Not to be outdone in misery and wickedness, Crawford goes toe-to-toe with Colson as Scrooge and Marley spar for dominance. Any initial reluctance to accept a female Scrooge dissipates quickly. Crawford has the energy and physical presence to embody the bitter, vicious Scrooge quite handily.
The play’s storyteller format requires the cast to slip between narrating and acting, with the transition often executed within a breath. Director Julia Glander not only assembled a crackling good cast, but also designed high-energy blocking to maximize their talents. John Lepard’s creative sound design includes Foley effects executed by the cast live on stage. Along with Shannon Schweitzer’s beautiful lighting, these production elements help immerse the audience in an expansive story within the small theater.
“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” is at once joyous and haunting. We know the story ends well, but as he fills in the backstory of how Scrooge and Marley came to be such flawed people, Mula gives audiences a chance to reflect on their own mortality and realize that it is never too late to be good. That is a fine Christmas gift indeed.
“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”
Williamston Theatre Through December 20 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday $23 Thursday/$28 Friday and Saturday evening/$25 Saturday and Sunday matinee/$10 students/ seniors and military $2 discount 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston (517) 655- 7469, williamstontheatre.com