Publication Date: Friday, December 03, 2004
A whole new 'Christmas Carol'
A whole new 'Christmas Carol'
(December 03, 2004) Bus Barn creates an unforgettable piece of theater
By Jeanie Forte
The delightful production of "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" currently at the Bus Barn Theater is not your usual holiday fare, and is not to be missed.
This is live theater at its finest, with terrific performers and a beautiful script -- theater that isn't trying to compete with film or rival a sitcom. It depends entirely on the audience's imaginations and the actors' abilities to tell the story. There are no fancy costumes, no realistic sets and almost no props. But it's one of the richest theater experiences I've had in a long time.
Four superb actors-- Kurt Gravenhorst, Ed Robinson, Will Brill and Sally Clawson-- provide both narration and characterization to tell Marley's story. Not just Dickens' well-known "Christmas Carol" from Marley's standpoint -- this is a whole new story by Tom Mula that has intersection and overlap with Dickens, but stands beautifully on its own.
"Marley was dead to begin with..." but do we know what happened to Ebenezer Scrooge's mean, old business partner after that? Chained and shackled with cash boxes, Marley is condemned to a hellish eternity. He's even given his own tiny tormentor, a malicious little hell-sprite called a Bogle who thoroughly enjoys his work.
Desperate, Marley accepts his one chance to free himself. To escape his own chains, he must first engineer a complete change of heart in his old partner, Scrooge. So begins a journey that inspires laughter and awe, contemplation and courage, during which Marley experiences his own redemption.
Gravenhorst steps in and out of the role of Marley, managing the sourest face ever, and yet making him a wonderfully sympathetic old coot. Almost everything in the show is mimed, accompanied by precise sound effects.
When Marley stands in a heavenly counting house before the chief accountant and is given his shackles to wear, Gravenhorst simply takes on the weight in his physical countenance, with the sounds of clanking chains as he moves with great effort. The combined visual and aural effect is stunning, creating a picture so complete you would almost swear the chains were real.
This invitation to the imagination continues throughout the production, keeping the staging simple yet vibrant. All four actors are up to the challenge, each of them bringing tremendous technique and physical ability to the various characters they inhabit. One of my favorite moments is when Marley decides to rot a little in order to appear scarier to Scrooge -- and Gravenhorst actually melts before your eyes, even narrating it as he liquefies.
Clawson plays a variety of roles, and her dance training obviously informs her fabulous physicality for each. She's hysterical as the decrepit chief accountant -- a kind of Dickensian St. Peter -- and robust and charming as Scrooge's nephew. Her inventiveness in transforming herself seems boundless.
Robinson becomes Scrooge at all stages of life, walking with an imaginary cane and stooped when aged, upright and feisty when younger -- and effecting an utterly believable transition into the "good" Scrooge. He even negotiates a little tap dance on that fateful Christmas morning. His accent could use a little work, but one doesn't really mind when the acting is otherwise so excellent.
Brill, primarily playing the Bogle who is tormenting and advising Marley, is pure revelation. His Gollum-esque characterization is nothing short of brilliant -- complex, funny, touching, agile, visually astonishing and absolutely fascinating. This exceptional young performer has a sensational career ahead of him -- I hope we can see him for a little while longer on local stages before he makes the big time.
The natural chemistry between Brill and Gravenhorst adds to the compelling partnership of Bogle and Marley. They play off of each other with ease and familiarity, almost like siblings who know every quirk and foible. Yet nothing is overdone; a sly look, a subtle glance, a nuanced movement -- all create a beautifully woven tapestry of gesture and image.
Special kudos to sound designer Brooks White for an immensely clever and inventive sound track. The precision and quality of the sound adds enhancement -- at times whimsical, at times emotional -- to the overall experience of the piece. Equally noteworthy is the atmospheric and distinctively eerie lighting by Chris Karabats.
But highest praise is reserved for director Barbara Cannon, for taking a script that is wide open to interpretation and making it come alive in an incredible evening of live theater.
It's her vision, her set, her casting, and her direction that bring all
the different elements together. Proving once again that one doesn't need
fancy sets or expensive costumes to tell a story, Cannon and company have
created an unforgettable piece of theater.
What: "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," presented by Bus Barn Stage Company. The play was written by Tom Mula.
Where: Bus Barn Theater, 97 Hillview Ave., Los Altos
When: Through Dec. 18. Show times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. on Dec. 5; Sunday evening at 7 p.m. on Dec. 12.
Cost: Tickets are $25 for Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances; $22 for Sundays. Group discounts and subscription rates are available.
Call: 941-0551 or visit www.busbarn.org.
E-mail a friend a link to this story.