“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”: At its best with its heart on its sleeve

  • Kraig Swartz, left, Tom Frey and Bridget Beirne in “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” at the Peterborough Players. PHOTO BY WLL HOWELL

  • Tom Frey, left, Jared Starkey, Kraig Swartz and Bridget Beirne in “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” PHOTO BY WILL HOWELL

For the Ledger-Transcript
Monday, December 11, 2017

The Peterborough Players’ “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” is cheesy. There is no doubt whatever about that. Though that may seem like a criticism, the cheesiness of this “Christmas Carol” reinterpretation may be the biggest boon to its success. After all, what production of “Christmas Carol” isn’t at least a little tacky? What production doesn’t have a heart bigger than its brain? And if a production did, wouldn’t that feel a little off? So, unsurprisingly, “Marley” is at its best when it leans into its natural inclinations towards heartwarming, Christmas-y feelings, and away from the literal pits of Hell.

“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” is a retelling of the Dickensian classic through the eyes of one of the minor characters, Jacob Marley. (Recommendation: if you have managed to go through life without somehow seeing an adaption of the original “Christmas Carol,” this might not be the show for you. However, Hollywood produces a new “Christmas Carol” adaption every third year, so you won’t have a problem procuring one.)

The story that is added in order to arrive at the story we know and love revolves around the need to force its main character, a man almost as rude and curmudgeonly as the old Scrooge, out of his place in Hell and into the real world, ready to help his old partner.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like the story that Tom Mula, the writer, particularly wished to be telling, because the time spent on this framing device is just not much fun, and once the play arrives at the intersection between itself and Dickens, it has more energy, more wit, and more heart than it has shown for the previous half hour. With the addition of Scrooge, the play’s main characters are all in place, and it begins to soar, I only wish it began with that same energy.

After the stories crossed, I was excited by “Marley” through to the end. It’s just more fun to watch an old man be helped than it is to watch an old man in Hell, and Kraig Schwartz as Scrooge throws so much ferocity into his character that one can’t help but get invigorated, but most of all, the intersection is where the show begins to add that extra-special bit of holiday heart. Whereas the original has Bob Cratchit to lend it some love from the outset, the wait is much longer for the Christmas spirit to infect “Marley.” When it does, however, the show can stand with the best of them in terms of whimsy, humanity, and Christmas spirit.

The show features Players’ favorites including Bridget Beirne, Tom Frey, Kraig Swartz and Jared Starkey and directed by Charles Moreyis playing now through Dec. 17, is co-sponsored by Atkins Callahan and is rated PG. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday.