Chris Clough, editor of Your Key to the Door Weekly, chats with Alan Kopischke and Robert Boles from JACOB MARLEY’S CHRSTMAS CAROL.
Read highlights from the interview.
Photos by Tina Gohr
TAP opens one-man show ‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol’
OK, so almost everyone knows the story of 19th-century London money lender Ebenezer Scrooge and how his stone-hearted, stingy ways were changed by three spirits, as told by author Charles Dickens in “A Christmas Carol.” If we haven’t read the book since it was first published in 1843, we’ve seen one of the many adaptations on stage, on TV or on the big screen, with the notorious miser’s life laid out, past, present and future, for all to see.
So, yes, we know Scrooge. Probably also know Bob Cratchit, his long-suffering clerk, and Cratchit’s ailing son, Tiny Tim.
But what about Scrooge’s career-long business partner, who Scrooge praised (in his view) as a “man of business” and whose ghostly return to Scrooge from his death seven years before the story launches Scrooge on the road to redemption?
Well, wonder no more about the Jacob Marley story, as Third Avenue Playhouse opens a three-week run of “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” this week, with Alan Kopischke starring in the one-man show.
The play was written by Peninsula Players Theater veteran Tom Mula, based on a novel he had previously written. Mula also starred as Marley during its premiere run in 1998 at Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where it was nominated for four Joseph Jefferson Awards for Chicago-area theater. It since has been performed in theaters across the country, including at TAP by Mula, and an audio version has aired for seven years, perhaps an ironic number given Marley’s circumstances, on National Public Radio.
“You get a little bit of a look behind the scenes both at Marley’s back story and what the spirit world is all about,” Kopischke said. “Through (Mula’s) imagination, we come to understand how (Marley) is part of the whole thing and how his redemption parallels Scrooge’s. I think his redemption is more profound because he makes more active choices for his redemption.
“Marley gives Scrooge a second chance. I think that’s key, because Marley doesn’t believe Scrooge deserves it. But he offers, and to me, that’s a more profound act of character.”
“We’re so familiar with Scrooge’s redemption, but Marley’s is somewhat more hard-fought,” Boles said. “He’s going through this purgatory world and has to work his way out of it. For Marley, it wouldn’t be enough to witness a happy Christmas party or visit his own grave. It’s deeper for him.”
Kopischke said he feels that Mula’s script portrays Marley in a manner that Dickens would have approved, and Boles said it gives a fresh take on a well-known tale.
“You get a fair amount of Marley’s past, a lot more of Scrooge and Marley’s relationship,” Kopischke said. “Tom is taking the source material and saying, OK, what else can we find? There’s sharp humor, imagination, some passages of real beauty and depth. I think Tom’s Marley is quite Dickensian and fits into Dickens’ world of ‘A Christmas Carol’ quite well.”
“It supplements and enhances an already known story, but it feels new in a lot of ways,” Boles said.
The story begins upon Marley’s death on a Christmas Eve, when he has to face how he conducted his life and begin his seven years of spiritual torment.
“(Marley’s afterlife redemption) happens in stages,” Boles said. “Seeing for the first time how his behavior in life is being embodied by Scrooge, it slowly starts to weigh on him the person that he was. He slowly realizes the person he was, and why he deserves (his torment).
“At the same time as Scrooge’s redemption, we’re seeing something similar happening to Marley. Where Scrooge was the means to an end, Marley is the story within our story.”
Kopischke added that, as with Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” audiences will see glimpses of Marley’s life that turned him into the businessman he became and perhaps humanize him a little.
Kopischke and Mula have known each other for about 20 years; Kopischke has acted with Peninsula Players and served as its development director for several years. Yet, even though this is Kopischke’s first one-man performance, and he’s watched video of Mula’s show at the Goodman, he said he’s not looking to re-create exactly what Mula did with the role.
“Not a lot of specifics,” he said when asked if he received any tips from Mula or Steve Scott, who directed Mula. “A lot of the advice was, have fun with it, bring your thoughts and ideas to it, don’t feel married to (the previous production).”
“It’s pretty challenging (physically and emotionally),” Kopischke said about having the stage to himself the entire time. “You have 100 minutes of dialogue and all the emotions that go with it. And it’s physical, moving the set pieces around. It’s a good workout, physically, mentally, emotionally. I guess I’m cross-training up there.”
“It’s story theater technique, the idea of taking a narrative and bringing it along as dialogue,” Boles said. “Doing 18 characters is really a very simple change of perspective, of voice … It’s story telling in its purest form, like sitting around the campfire. The actor provides the voice, and the audience fills in the other things with its imagination. So it’s a collaborative process with everyone in the room. It really is the essence of theater .. It takes a singular talent (to star in one).”
“I wouldn’t have wanted to do this without a director like Bob,” he said. “We’ve done three shows at TAP, two of which were two-person shows, very demanding. I like the way he works, the relationship, the collaboration we have. I knew if I was going to do this, Bob is the guy I want guiding me through it.”
Boles and Kopischke said they feel the end result of “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” is a show that people will enjoy, be affected by, think about, and remember upon Christmases yet to come.
“It’s fun to watch,” Boles said. “It’s a ghost story, not macabre but frightening, in a good way. You have the familiarity of the story and the twist in it.”
“I played George Bailey (the ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ hero) in Milwaukee a couple years ago,” Kopischke said. “I think that and ‘A Christmas Carol’ are kind of the twin pillars of our Christmas lore — and I think this story belongs up there with them.”
Christopher Clough is the editor of Your Key to the Door Weekly. To read the full article, click here.
Photos by Tina Gohr
By Tom Mula
Drected by Robert Boles
Featuring Alan Kopischke
General Admission: $27
Children 6 – 12: $7
Final Shows: Wednesday, December 21 – Friday, Deember 23 at 7:30 and Saturday, December 24 at 2:00.
For tickets or more information, visit the TAP box office, across from the theater at 234 N. Third Ave.; call 920-743-1760; or BUY TICKETS ONLINE