by Carole Verona
In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge asks his deceased business partner Jacob Marley, who appears to him as a ghost wearing chains, “Who are you?” Marley responds, “Ask me who I was.”
That line is the jumping off point for “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” to be performed at The Stagecrafters Theater on Dec. 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23. Directed by local resident Mariangela Saavedra, 44, the award-winning play was written by Tom Mula. It has been performed in theaters across the country. The story was also published as a novel and was broadcast nationally on NPR for seven seasons.
Mula, in an interview published on the Marin Theatre Company website, said he always felt that Marley got a raw deal in Dickens’ story. Scrooge got a chance at redemption, so why not Marley?
“Marley comes back seven years after he died (in the Stagecrafters’ play),” Saavedra said, “and something dramatic must have happened to make him return and say to Scrooge, ‘You don’t want this!’ The writer of the play was so sharp. He extracted the most recognizable lines and moments from ‘A Christmas Carol,’ making this story feel familiar but still surprising. You won’t see what’s coming.”
At Stagecrafters, the back story of what leads Jacob Marley to Scrooge’s doorstep on Christmas Eve is revealed by actors Brian Weiser (Jacob Marley), Jim Broyles (Ebenezer Scrooge), Patrick Cathcart (Bob Cratchitt/Record Keeper), Teresa Nutter (The Bogle), and Browning Sterner (The Stagehand). Saavedra explained that a “bogle” is a rambunctious gremlin-like creature that appeared in English folklore. Whenever things went wrong, people blamed it on a bogle.
“One of the play’s challenges is that the script doesn’t call for a lot of props and costumes,” Saavedra said. “As a director, I had to get creative and decide what elements were important to be seen. What does Scrooge need in order to be recognized? A cane, a coat, a robe, a nightgown? What can he do without? An important piece — and it says it right in the script — is not to show Marley wearing chains. They’re cumbersome, and they detract. Marley steps in and out of so many facets of himself, going back to when he was a young boy. So it would be a problem if he wore chains.”
Another character, The Stagehand, is not in the original play and was created by Saavedra for this production. “I invented the role because I needed a person to function as a live on-stage helper to keep the show going by assisting with scene and costume changes,” Saavedra added. She cast Browning Sterner in the role. Sterner has cerebral palsy and often works as a stage manager. “Although this isn’t a big part, I told Sterner that he gets to be an old-time stagehand, coming in and out and doing things that are needed. I also gave him some narration pieces.”
Saavedra added that the play is appropriate for all ages. It’s not scary for kids because scary things, such as Marley pulling the skin off of his face, are only described and not seen. “Kids who enjoy listening to stories or reading books will like this play,” she said.
Saavedra is the artistic and managing director of Casabuena Cultural Productions. She lives in Mt. Airy with her husband Eric Gershenow and step-son Halin Hegamyer-Gershenow. She received a bachelor’s degree in acting and directing from Marshall University in West Virginia in 1999. She recently directed “On Golden Pond” at Stagecrafters and “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at Allens Lane Art Center. In May, she will direct “I Hate Hamlet” at Allens Lane.
More information on “Christmas Carol” at http://casabuenacp.com/buy-tickets/ or 773-633-6402.