While performing as Scrooge at a Chicago production of “A Christmas Carol,” actor Tom Mula had an epiphany, courtesy of a young patron, Hazel Flowers McCabe. After the show, she seemed sad about the story. When asked, she confided in Mula that it didn’t seem fair that Jacob Marley — the ghost who started Scrooge on his road to redemption — “got a raw deal.”
From that inspiration, Mula first wrote a novel, which he then followed up with a spoken-word version (read for years on National Public Radio) and a one-man stage adaptation. In the decade since, he has seen his work produced on stages throughout the country — and even around the world. “It’s had more than 100 productions on four continents,” he says. “The most recent continental addition being Wagga Wagga, Australia.”
Mula’s take on Dickens has come to St. Paul, as Jim Lichtscheidl takes on the show at the Park Square Theatre in a production directed by Richard Cook. “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 21.
One actor, 18 characters
For the popular Twin Cities actor, the show offers a unique set of challenges — including creating 18 characters over the course of a single evening.
Mula’s play centers on a story happening behind the scenes of “A Christmas Carol,” as Marley has been given one chance to remove the bonds that he forged in life by pushing his business partner on the path of redemption.
While there are three main characters — Marley, Scrooge and a little imp named Boggle — Lichtscheidl has an additional 15 characters to keep in his mind during the show.
“I have to be aware of the arc of each of them, and where they are right now in the script,” he says.
Mula’s writings were helpful in these matters, Lichtscheidl says. “He’s so descriptive in each of the characters, and there is a lot of narration that helps that as well.”
A process of development
This detail developed through the years. “When I first was preparing the script for others to do, I worked with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, who produced it first (they did it for 3 seasons), tweaking the script, making cuts and additions, acting suggestions, etc. And the first year it was done by a lot of pro companies, I flew around looking at productions, again, seeing how it was working,” Mula said. “As a result, I put a long note to the actors in the playscript, as handling the narrative seemed tricky.”
For his part, Mula wants each production to fly on its own.
“My attitude towards productions must be parental: I’m glad the project is off on its own now, having a life. I’m proud of it, think it’s a good piece, and am glad it’s getting done,” Mula said.
And “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” adds an interesting layer to the tale.
“It adds an additional level to a familiar story,” Lichtscheidl says. “It’s as if a secret is unfolding in front of you. And the message is very good as well. It’s about the chances we all have to make things better.”
” ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a perennial; in all humility, truly, I think this is a worthwhile coda to it,” Mula says. “It was very important to me that JMCC echoed the values of Dickens’ original, both ethical and entertainment-wise. When the book was published, a couple stopped me in a bookstore. It was the first time I’d been recognized on the street as an author. They congratulated me for writing the piece, for settling two old ghosts. I was confused. ‘Marley and Scrooge?’ I asked. ‘No, Marley and Dickens,’ they answered. That was nice to hear. I don’t take much credit for writing the piece — mostly, I took dictation. It was already out there, waiting to be written. I was the lucky typist.”
What: “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”
Where: Park Square Theatre, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul
When: Through Dec. 21
Tickets: $24-$39, with discounts for those under 30 and seniors; rush $15