A Christmas Carol and Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Christmas Carol and Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol 

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A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Goodman Theatre, and JACOB MARLEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL, Goodman Theatre Studio. Determined to give Scrooge's dead partner his due, Tom Mula makes him the hero of Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol. True to the spirit of Dickens's 1843 Christmas classic, Mula's vibrant, 140-minute one-man show--spiritedly staged by Steve Scott and based on Mula's best-selling 1995 novella--teems with "backstage" revelations that alternately subvert and support its famous source.

Mula--who played Scrooge for seven seasons at the Goodman--understands that the entire miracle hinges on Marley's motivation: saving himself from damnation. Discharged from hell on a "work release" and joined by a "bogle" (an impish sprite), Marley stage-manages Scrooge's reformation. Though purists may argue Mula's version contradicts some of Dickens, the tale's sentiment and universality triumph. And Mula's retelling, though weaker in the human intimacies, gives Scrooge's reformation a cosmic context.

With faces and voices as varied as Peter Ustinov's at his peak, Mula accomplishes some astonishing shape-shifting, entrancing us with a dithering celestial Record Keeper, the gruff Marley, a fey Bogle, and a palsied Scrooge. John Culbert's cosmic set, Robert Neuhaus's spectral sound effects, and Larry Schanker's unobtrusive score complete the magic.

Though it remains true to tradition--which now includes nontraditional casting--Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol has a new Scrooge this season. And Henry Godinez's staging is a tad bleaker and brisker this year, barely allowing jubilation to triumph over the story's dark elements--which perfectly suits Rick Snyder's sobersided Scrooge. Departing from Mula's physical comedy and William J. Norris's preference for the mean over the merry, Snyder depicts a no-nonsense misanthrope, charting a steady course from isolation to grudging curiosity to the gratitude of the suddenly reprieved. Time, no doubt, will bring texture. Stalwartly supporting Scrooge's salvation are Norris, contagiously merry as Mr. Fezziwig; Brad Armacost, whose Bob Cratchit suffers more silently and sincerely than previous paupers; Jonathan Weir, whose Marley is as ferocious in his zeal as Mula's is subtle; and Alison Halstead and Felicia Fields, two rather unwraithlike cutups.

--Lawrence Bommer

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