CARBONDALE, Colorado - Move over Ebenezer Scrooge. Jacob Marley has his own story of Christmas past, present and future to tell. And his version may seem a little different.
"This is really not the 'Christmas Carol' as we know it," says Lon Winston, executive artistic director of Thunder River Theatre Co. (TRTC), which is opening "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" this weekend.
"We always lived through the story through Scrooge. This is seen through Marley's eyes," Winston said.
The award-winning play, a Tom Mula take on the Charles Dickens literary classic "A Christmas Carol," features a clever adaptation of a story that has long lived as a holiday tradition.
"I do believe that Dickins found a way to share the season in a way that touched everyone. It is more about peace and good will, generosity of spirit and love. It is not so much a religious story, but one that most people can latch on to," Winston said.
"I love doing that in the theatre anyway, especially with classics. I like that TRTC brings classics to our audience in a fresh new way. Tom Mula does that in his play to begin with. Plus, doing the 'Christmas Carol' every year feels to me like ballet companies doing 'The Nutcracker' every year," Winston added. "I look for new ways of telling ancient stories."
Winston said the male-centric character development in Mula's adaptation intrigued him as he read over the script.
"I was attracted to the idea of the play being done by four men," he said. "I liked that in a theme about redemption. The play is an ensemble piece. There is a connectedness, a focus that must be there at all times. Each actor is working for the other, being there for each other."
Director Michael Monroney agreed that the actors in TRTC's "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" - Kent Reed, Richard Lyon, Lee Sullivan and Chris Wheatley - really set the play apart from other productions.
"I've got four strong, versatile and dynamic performers that bring these people and spirits to life," Monroney said. "Every actor plays more than one part in this show. Even Kent Reed, who plays Jacob Marley, is on stage the entire show, playing at least five, maybe more. I've lost count."
Monroney has enjoyed the creative license involved in directing the actors as they adapt their various characters to the TRTC stage.
"I love doing theater that so engages the audience's imagination. Multiple character roles are like cotton candy to actors," he said. "It gives you so much room to be creative and stretch your boundaries."
A tradition of storytelling
The audience will recognize many of Dickens' characters and themes while garnering an appreciation for the new era of "A Christmas Carol," Monroney said.
"Charles Dickens was a brilliant analyzer of human nature. Just the notion that, 'We wear the chains we forge in life' so encapsulates the human experience, no matter what your spiritual background," he said.
"These characters are iconic in English literature - Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Quimby Marley. Plus, there are a few new characters that the playwright created to drive the story forward.
"The audience is going to see a ladder used in ways they've never imagined before. And they get to be set designer, costumer and make-up artist, because other than some platforms, a ladder, sound cues and some lights, the stage design for this show is pretty simple."
Monroney said "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" will spark childhood memories of the Dickens novella that has been adapted in its many forms over the years.
"The actors narrate the story as well as act out all the parts, and I think the audience gets to respond with a certain child-like wonder, as if being read a story by a parent or teacher," he said. "I think it's magical. This is a tradition of storytelling that goes back to the cave, to hunters and shamans dancing around campfires and spellbinding their listeners."
Winston said the TRTC stage is a perfect venue to repurpose a beloved holiday classic.
"At its birth, theater was at the root of all we did. Storytelling was the way everything was handed down. Theater became the way for all to participate, to share in what was important," Winston said. "The holiday season transcends just one culture or religion. The winter solstice, the darkness, the return of light reflects most cultures of the world. Theater is a way for us all to come together and share a common time, a common need."
"A theater is a church, in so many ways. Over the holidays, with family and loved ones, we gravitate toward places of spirituality and renewal," he said. "There is an element of ritual and solemnity in this play that go hand in hand with the season."
Just ask Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley.