Play gives the back story to 'A Christmas Carol'by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The play opening tomorrow night at the Park Square Theater in St Paul has the words "Christmas Carol" in the title. But director Richard Cook argues for some people it's not a holiday show.
He says for theater fans, "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" is a delicate piece of stagecraft created through the talents of his lead actor.
Actor Jim Lichtscheidl describes "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" as the backstory to Charles Dickens' classic tale of the miser Scrooge. It's seen through the eyes of his deceased business partner.
"We first encounter Jacob Marley almost immediately after he has passed away and he is introduced to the host of characters in hell for lack of a better world, and is informed that in order to redeem himself, he has to redeem himself," Lichtscheidl said.
Jim Lichtscheidl plays Marley. And Scrooge, and the creepy guy in the counting house. In fact, as director Richard Cook points out, he plays all the other characters too.
"We think there's 18 characters: Marley and 17 others," Cook said.
It was Cook who first approached Lichtscheidl about doing Tom Mula's play at Park Square. Cook says he knew Lichtscheidl had the ability, the physicality as he puts it, to slip seamlessly between characters to tell the story.
"So it is so much fun when he is Cratchit putting the coat on Scrooge, and he is Scrooge getting the coat put on him all in the same three seconds," Cook said.
Yet there is a huge amount of thinking going into that physicality as Jim Lichtscheidl performs.
"In another play where I am doing just one character, I attack it and I see what the character's arc is, and the background and investigate all of those aspects," Lichtscheidl said. "And I basically do that with each character within this multi-character piece."
Theater critic Quinton Skinner said it also requires a gifted comedic performer: "Because there is a lot of comedy in the show as well as a bit of heaviness."
Skinner saw the original mounting of "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" last year.
"You know we are brought back round to the theme that our life on earth is fleeting and it's a question of how we want to conduct ourselves, if we want to be Scrooge or otherwise," Skinner said. "But Jim is capable of doing both comedy and drama, and as we discover by watching this show he can do them in the space of seconds."
"Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" was a critical hit last year for Park Square. Richard Cook said it wasn't a given they would remount the show. However when he talked with Lichtscheidl, they found they both wanted to do new things with the piece.
"We have chance to go two layers deeper than we went last year," he said. "Or perhaps it's one later sillier, depending on the moment."
Both Cook and Lichtscheidl are clearly enjoying the challenge of re-imagining the play while remounting it.
Cook acknowledges that holiday shows are different. For some folk this is the only time of the year they will step in a theater, so they want it to be really good. For Cook that doesn't present an unusual challenge.
"Park Square very consciously says that each play we do is the most important play we do, because we always know that somebody is choosing this play for the year."
Cook says he thinks Jacob Marley will be back at Park Square in the future, but in a different way. He hopes to build a collection of holiday shows which can be done in repertory in future years, all under the same roof in the same holiday season.
- All Things Considered, 12/03/2009, 4:54 p.m.