Original play unchains a spirit of Christmas

December 18, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

At the risk of sounding like Scrooge, a little "Christmas Carol" can go a long way at this time of year, so Fell's Point Corner Theatre deserves credit for bucking the trend and mounting an original Christmas play.

Granted, as the title suggests, "Whatever Happened to Jacob Marley?" is a sequel to Dickens' classic tale. And not only is the staging more pageant-like than dramatic, but the context is extremely contrived -- spooning a generous dollop of Fells Point history over Dickens' traditional Christmas pudding.

But heck, it's Christmas, when good intentions count extra.

Even the play's authorship, a cooperative effort by Beverly Sokal, president of Fell's Point Corner, and John Bruce Johnson, president of the Vagabond Players and the production's director, suggests the Christmas spirit of sharing.

The premise is that Jacob Marley, Scrooge's deceased business partner, whom Dickens left wandering the world in chains, is given a chance to rid himself of all that clanking metal by doing -- or at least inspiring -- a series of good deeds over a period of nearly two centuries.

To urge him on, Sokal and Johnson assign him five "Youthful Spirits" -- a quintet of children who are the production's most delightful aspect, particularly young Carrie Foster as the littlest spirit and the most unabashed when it comes to nudging Marley along.

Moving from 1740 to 1920 in a mere hour and 20 minutes, Marley encounters historical figures ranging from William Fell to a young Frederick Douglass, not to mention entire families of Jewish and Polish immigrants. Equal rights and mutual respect are key themes as cast members celebrate the holidays in English, Hebrew, Polish and a bit of German.

If it seems far-fetched that Marley, a stalwart British citizen, would support the American Revolution, it's probably no more far-fetched than his subsequent encounter with St. Patrick, which leads to the naming of the second Catholic church in Baltimore.

Tom Templeton plays Marley as a bent-over sourpuss whose back gets straighter and expression jollier as he sheds his chains; links drop with each good deed.

The two-dozen-plus cast members include community theater regulars as well as students in Fell's Point Corner's Theatre Training Institute. The performances are uneven, but there's enough good will to sustain the short production.

"Whatever Happened to Jacob Marley?" is the fifth original Christmas show Fell's Point Corner has mounted over the years. Didactic and intentionally provincial, it hardly poses a threat to the omnipresent "A Christmas Carol," which even this theater presents from time to time.

The new play, however, offers a painless, and at times charming, way for young people to learn a little Baltimore history, sugar-coated with traditional Christmas carols and a couple of original songs. It's hard to say "humbug" to that.

Dickens revisited

What: "Whatever Happened to Jacob Marley?"

Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: 8 p.m. today, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $10-$11; seniors and students, $9; children under 12, $5

Call: 410-276-7837

Pub Date: 12/18/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.