by Helen Bas
It’s like a look into a parallel universe — a much-loved tale with its familiar beginning and ending. But there the similarity ends, and the story of Scrooge and Marley takes a decidedly weird twist.
That’s weird as in funny and grim, heartwarming and heartwrenching. Written by Tom Mula, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, which opened at Vertigo Theatrics Friday, is a spin-off of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Mula’s play was written to be performed as a one-man show or — as is the case with this production — with a four-person cast. More than a dozen characters are portrayed.
The evening began with a delicious dinner catered by the Masonic Temple. Along with the usual tasty fare, there were chicken livers that were to die for. After coffee and pie, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling took the stage for a charming reading of “The Night Before Christmas.”
Ted Valley, Vertigo’s executive artistic producer, then took the stage as Jacob Marley’s spirit, alternating between the old skinflint and a narrator. He’s magnificent in the role, curmudgeonly as all get out. As in A Christmas Carol, Marley is seven years dead and he’s attempting to redeem Scrooge to save him from a fate of eternity in chains.
But there is where the story strays, to the delight of the audience. After a slightly ponderous opening, Marley encounters his personal “bogle.”
Also spelled “boggle” (and pronounced that way here), the word means spirit, specter or goblin. It’s thought that “bogeyman” is related. Marley’s bogle is hardly scary; she’s a sprite played by Allison Amon, a veteran of Vertigo’s stage. With her whimsical outfit, floppy ponytails and perky mannerisms, she’s the perfect foil for Marley.
And she’s there to offer him a deal: get out of hell by visiting Scrooge and convincing him to change his ways. Marley, being supremely selfish, agrees. He has 24 hours, or until cocks-crow, whichever comes first, to get Scrooge to redeem himself.
Marley and his bogle plot their task with extreme care. Scrooge is played by Dan Romzek, who takes on numerous other characters, as does Steve Harris. Both have trod the boards at Vertigo in the past, and each switches parts seemingly effortlessly.
Marley gets to work, bogle never very far away. He comes to Scrooge as the ghost of Christmas past and then as Christmas present, and the tricks and shenanigans he pulls on Scrooge are hysterically funny. So too are the bogle’s, as she deals with the ever-difficult Marley.
Each of the four actors contributes ably to the production. Valley jumps and writhes, paces and poses, with ridiculous grimaces and grins. Amon pops about, gesturing animatedly, listening with a cock of the head, climbing around on the set gracefully and nimbly.
Romzek and Harris have roles that are perhaps not quite as showy, but they perform wonderfully, switching roles quickly and portraying a dozen or so characters in a couple of hours. Their talent and professionalism were as evident as Valley’s and Amon’s. Superb directing by Jennifer Harris in her directorial debut was also evident. Stage manager/lighting technician Amanda Newman and stage manager Amber Lockwood made everything flow smoothly.
So as Marley goes about his task, he and the bogle begin to despair, for time is running out. A visit by the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, a few more shenanigans, and more hand-writhing by the bogle accompany the ending of the show.
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol is a delightful new take on Dickens’ beloved tale. Vertigo Theatrics sustains its high level of artistry and entertainment with this show, which continues at the Masonic Temple, 755 S. Saginaw, Flint, tonight and Dec. 10-11 with dinner at 7 p.m. and show at 8 p.m. There is one matinee, Dec. 12, with lunch at 1:30 p.m. and show at 2:30 p.m. Dinner/lunch plus performance seats are $35 ($30 in advance). Performance only seats are $20. For more information, call 810-239-7469.