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Trustus makes magic with Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol

Updated: Dec 11, 2018


by Allen Wallace

We love Christmas stories. We know the classics by heart, and will watch It’s a Wonderful Life at least 12 more times this month and sob every time. We’ll even watch atrocious Netflix and Hallmark originals and enjoy them despite the writers inside us dying inside at each horrible bit of dialogue and every “plot twist” we can all see coming before we even press play.


That love makes it all the more exciting when I discover a new story that is legitimately great, and that’s what Columbia’s Trustus Theatre is offering this month with Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol. If you want to stop reading this right now and just go see the show, you have our blessing, and we feel confident you won’t be disappointed.


“No two audience members tonight are going to see the exact same show, because a lot of it is in here,” Trustus Artistic Director Chad Henderson said before the Dec. 7 show, gesturing to his head. “And that’s a magical thing.”


Magical. Isn’t that what we all want at this time of year? Isn’t it what Christmas is all about, really? Hope coming to life from the darkest of nights, and joy found in unexpected places. That’s what this show, rather unexpectedly at least to this reviewer, offers.


Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, written by Tom Mula, is born from an increasingly popular trope: the retelling of a familiar story from a different point of view. In this case, as in Stoppard’s classic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a minor character becomes the center of things.


As director Patrick Michael Kelly puts it, Jacob Marley’s role in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is “as iconic a cameo as there ever was.” In this show, we learn more about Scrooge’s partner and his own quest for redemption, accompanied by a bogle (don’t worry, you’ll learn what that is).

The show is a treat for the imagination such as we rarely see on stage or screen in 2018. The Trustus cast is composed of just four actors, backed by a minimalist set, and they serve as narrators as often as they play roles.


The effect is, as Henderson alluded to, an experience reminiscent of sitting around a fire listening to ghost stories, and that is, of course, by design. When as an audience member, you are asked to engage mentally in a different way, and perhaps a more difficult way, asked to think and imagine as opposed to a mere evening of watching and listening, the show becomes a deeply personal one.


There are certainly elements of horror here, but also of humor (rather surprisingly, the legendary Ebenezer Scrooge himself provides much of the comic relief) and most of all of what we think Dickens and Mula would agree can be called the Christmas spirit. It is a ghost story, but very much a Christmas ghost story.


The storytellers make it work. We imagine this a challenging show for actors, but Kevin Bush, Krista Forster, Richard Edward III, and Jeff Driggers pull it off superbly. Forster’s work as the (evil? helpful? mischievous? adorable? all of the above?) bogle is especially outstanding, and the conclusion of her storyline moved more than one member of the audience to tears.


“While this play attacks Dickens’ story from another angle, Mula’s message is the same: human beings make mistakes, but we all deserve a second chance — a chance to change — and the cure for selfishness is kindness,” Kelly said.


Hope. Second chances. An opportunity to make things right and start again no matter how badly you’ve done things until now. An incredibly entertaining ghost story that reminds you of all those things, and leaves you walking out like Scrooge at the end of the Dickens classic, filled with Christmas spirit and love for your fellow humans. Take all that, add a very reasonable ticket price and the knowledge that your money supports local theatre. What you have, if you’ve done the math correctly, is a wonderful way to spend an evening this December.


Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 22 at Trustus. Information on showtimes and ticket prices is available here.

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