Jacob Marley is dead and looking for redemption.
The Savannah Repertory Theatre, the city's newest professional company, will present "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" at its Playshop on Industry Drive for two weekends starting Dec. 14.
Charles Dickens' original "A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being A Ghost-Story of Christmas" novella has seen a plethora of adaptations since it was published in the mid-1800s. Dickens introduced the world to Ebenezer Scrooge and his business partner Jacob Marley through a dark ghost story with a big heart.
Savannah Rep presents a humorous and unique look at the classic tale for its third production of the first official season.
"We figured so many theater companies do 'Christmas Carol' so many times now. 'Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol' is such an interesting look at the 'Christmas Carol' story from an opposite point of view," director Nick Corley said. "It expands your knowledge of possibilities of what could be lurking in the other side of the story."
"Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," a play by Tom Mula, focuses on Marley's journey from the depths of hell into the light of redemption. Marley's fate is tied to Scrooge's fate, his former business partner. However, in this modernized version, a third character is added in Marley's quest. Bogle, a hell-sprite with his own agenda, is also tied to Marley's fate.
Corley is no stranger to the prominent Christmas story. He performed in a 1995 production of "A Christmas Carol" in Madison Square Garden with renowned theater director Mike Ockrent at the helm. When he approached the staging of this production, Corley drew from that experience.
"Dickens wrote a ghost story," Corley said. "To begin with, Marley was dead. Mike always said at the first day of rehearsals, it's a ghost story. It's a fun, loving ghost story, but it's a ghost story with a big heart. All of those elements are there.
"â€¦ I wanted to honor the 'Christmas Carol' story. You still feel you're seeing the 'Christmas Carol' story within this."
Utilizing the company's new permanent home in the former Dollhouse Studios auxiliary performance space, Corley wanted to create an atmosphere that engulfed patrons in the story. Departing from the standard proscenium style presentation, Corley and company have created an exaggerated thrust set, putting the audience on three sides of the action.
"Doing it in this space, taking it out of proscenium situation, and having it move, so people are constantly seeing actors and stuff - to create all of that necessary movement you have to do when you're working in the round, I think it only ups the theatricality of this kind of script," Corley said. "I think it's going to be really fun in this space.
"In this, you are part of the story. There are times when we sit among the audience as a part of the story. I really wanted everyone to feel like they were part of the telling of the story. I think that's a unique theatrical thing that you don't often get."
"Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" ran for two seasons at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, and was nominated for several awards. It has since seen productions by Cincinnati Shakespeare, American Stage Festival, Delaware Rep, Bristol Riverside Theatre and more. In Savannah, for the first time in its storied production history, "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" will be presented with five actors instead of the standard four (or the occasional solo show).
Because of the direction in staging, Corley decided they needed different energies for two of the play's roles, which are typically handled by a single actor. In the actor split, Savannah Rep's artistic director Ken Neil Hailey will take on the role of Record Keeper, while SCAD student Marquies Wilson will handle the role of Assistant.
Two professional actors and one New York-based actor will handle the play's main roles. Marley will be brought to life by Jaryl Draper, a new Savannah resident making his Rep debut. His background includes award-winning roles in the Seattle theater scene, including the Book-It Rep, which is known for literary adaptations.
"Because this is a literary adaptation and so much of the storytelling falls on his character, I thought Jaryl is going to know how to do this and be comfortable with this stylistically," Corley said. "He's amazing. He's a great transplant for the Savannah theater scene."
Jack Herholdt, who is based in New York, will portray Bogle after appearing in the last two Savannah Rep productions, "Greater Tuna" and "The Importance of Being Earnest." Scrooge will be brought to life by Kevin Zepf in his Savannah Rep debut. Both actors have a number of Off-Broadway credits.
The story of Marley mirrors and is entwined with the story of Scrooge. This play, for ages 8 and older, will corral you into the holiday spirit.
"Marley's redemption is tied into, as a part of the plot, to him saving Scrooge's soul," Corley said. "That's his reason for coming back. If Scrooge doesn't change, Marley is confined to hell for the rest of his existence. The Bogle is already there and his redemption also lies in Marley's. So you have a triple redemption story. That's the heart of this version of the story. I think that's interesting. The author has done something very clever with that."
IF YOU GO
What: "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol"
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 15, 16, 22, 23; 7 p.m. Dec. 14, 20, 21; 3 p.m. Dec. 17
Where: Savannah Rep Playshop, 980 Industry Drive