Beyond humbug

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol

The cast of <i>Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol</i> introduces Harry Harris, center, to the afterlife.

The cast of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol introduces Harry Harris, center, to the afterlife.

Rated 4.0

The better shows at the Delta King Theatre take advantage of the venue’s particular circumstances. It’s the city’s smallest professional stage, with a low ceiling, so the Delta King favors shows with small casts and a modest amount of physical action. Ticket buyers on the touristy waterfront in Old Sacramento tend to favor mainstream entertainment with a clear storyline, possibly because many patrons visit the bar on the top deck before the show. (This is one of the few theaters in town that lets you carry a beverage to your seat.) The atmosphere on the old riverboat recalls the 19th century and somehow favors ghost stories at any time of the year.

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol caters to all these factors. The script (written by Tom Mula, who played Scrooge for years in Chicago) invokes the Charles Dickens standard but retells the story from the point of view of Marley’s ghost. The recently deceased Marley is learning the rules in the grisly realm of the afterlife while looking back on his miserable childhood. The script was originally a National Public Radio play, so there’s abundant descriptive language. Much of the critical action takes place between your ears.

Director Stephanie Gularte works with a seasoned cast of local pros, including versatile Lucinda Hitchcock Cone in several roles and Jamie Jones as the perky, naughty sprite who shows Marley the ropes. Harry Harris plays Marley. He doesn’t look much like the pale figure in chains we see in the standard version. Harris is broad-shouldered and ruddy-cheeked, but he’s effective. He realizes Marley’s transformation mostly through his voice, which goes from peevish to awe-struck and from giddy to morose. Steely Graham Scott Green plays Scrooge as a supporting character, appearing periodically to deliver famous lines the way Hamlet does in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Sound designer Mike Healy blends in ghoulish groans, muffled screams and mad cackles. The afterworld where Marley does penance is a grim place, making this show too creepy for youngsters.

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol should please those who are a bit burned out on the standard tale but aren’t ready to part with all that lovely Victorian morality, mortality, gloom and repentance. The play’s core message still rings true in an era when too many of us seem ready to fill the moat, set the alarm and pull up the drawbridge in front of our gated homes. Dickens surely is smiling somewhere, knowing that his tale still works.