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Published: 12/23/2006

New angle freshens a Christmas standard

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Hofbauer Hofbauer
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It has never seemed quite fair that, at the end of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge earns redemption but nothing is said about Jacob Marley. The implication is that he gets to keep wearing his chains.

Chicago actor and playwright Tom Mula didn't think it was fair either, so in 1995 he wrote Marley's version of what happened and called it Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, a play that is now being presented by Harvest Theatre of Toledo.

Tom Hofbauer brings Marley to life. Well, that's not the proper word, since Hofbauer, as the narrator, makes it very clear, exceedingly clear, there-can-be-no-doubt clear, at the outset that Marley is dead.

Not only that, he is condemned to hell, shackled by the chains of his money-grubbing existence on earth.

And if that's not enough to ruin his day, Marley is saddled with an imp called Bogle, who lives in his right ear and complains about the hygiene of its new home.

Hell, as one might imagine, is a hateful place, and when Bogle offers Marley one chance to save his soul, the condemned man jumps at it without even thinking. Then Marley discovers that he has been assigned to the impossible task of getting his former partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, to willingly redeem himself and embrace mankind.

Not only that, he must do it within a 24-hour period on the day before Christmas.

Mula's story puts a different spin on Dickens's tale, even as it stays true to the main plot. The three ghosts show up, but not in the way one might imagine. Scrooge's clerk, Bob Cratchit, is there, and Tiny Tim and Mr. Fezziwig, but they are seen through Marley's eyes, not Scrooge's, adding new dimensions to the tale.

Standing at a lectern, Hofbauer is part storyteller, part actor. He narrates, yes, but he also gives each character, major and minor, his or her own voice and mannerisms, from the wizened, surly demeanor of Scrooge; to the impish Ghost of Christmas Past, a Cockney lad; to the browbeaten Cratchit, who ends his day at the office by blowing out the candles and saluting Scrooge's portrait with a rude gesture.

The stage is spare, almost minimalist, with the same background of a Victorian street scene that is shared with Harvest Theatres' second Christmas production, Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge. Just a few props are on a table near the lectern, but Hofbauer, founder of the Around the Bend Players improv group, doesn't need them. When he mimes the unrolling of a contract, our imagination supplies the parchment. When he has trouble lifting his arms, we can almost see the chains weighing Marley down.

Unlike Mrs. Bob Cratchit, which plays fast and loose with the Dickens tale, going for broad laughs, Jacob Marley stays true to the classic and goes at it from another angle.

Purists will find no crime in this alteration or in the production. The only problem is with the audience - or lack thereof. Fewer than 15 people were at the performance Thursday night. Hofbauer and Jacob Marley deserve much more.

"Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" is at 8 tonight; 7 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m. Friday; and 3 p.m. Dec. 31. "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge" is scheduled at 8 p.m. Thursday (includes post-show discussion), Dec. 30, and Dec. 31 (post-show New Year's Eve party). Shows are in Lincoln Hall of Collingwood Presbyterian Church, 2108 Collingwood Blvd. The entrance is on Floyd Street, where parking is available in a lighted lot. Tickets, available at the door, are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students, with discounts listed on the theater's Web site: www.harvesttheatre.com.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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