The Marvelous Mr. Mays – A Christmas Carol

To benefit community, amateur, and regional theaters from coast to coast.

“Scrooge was secret, self contained and solitary as an oyster…” We’re so close to the thespian’s face, a candle he holds seems to emit heat. “…even blind men’s dogs when they saw him coming would take their owners into doorways…” The scene is cinematic, painterly, with just enough light to control what’s observed; composition is remarkable. Our narrator (Jefferson Mays playing every role) is then a small figure engulfed by vast blackness seen from a distance.

“Once upon a time on Christmas Eve…” Furniture moves in and out of shadow sometimes shared with well integrated projection as in the case of building facades. Ebenezer Scrooge is at his desk. Nephew Fred bursts in. We hear ambient streets sounds while the unseen door is open – horses, carriages, voices. The young man is gruffly dismissed as are two strangers of good will and charity.

“At length the hour for shutting up the counting house arrived…” Fog, the illusion of damp. Marley’s face on the door knocker – close up, an oriole of light. “Scrooge had as little of what’s called fancy about him as any man in London.” It’s almost pitch in his chambers. Suddenly there are stairs and a fire. The miser eats “gruel” from a poor tin bowl. Tall, dirty windows are the only light besides flame.

An out-of-order bell rings, the cellar door slams. There’s clanging and dragging of heavy metal, weighted tread. (Narration.) Marley’s ghost enters in chains, speaking in agonized echoes. “You may be an undigested bit of beef,” Scrooge tenuously protests. Marley roars. The air around him visibly undulates. “Incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret” fill the room. Scrooge cowers.

The tale is divided into titled chapters. Each ghost appears and is described. Distinctive vapor, light, reverberation and shadow manifests succession. Scrooge flies through the air. Buildings appear. “Good Heavens, I was bred in this place!” he exclaims to The Ghost of Christmas Past. A child abandoned at school for the holidays. “Scrooge sat down and wept to see his poor forgotten self.” His sister comes to take him home. A feathery, childish voice bubbles up. One fragile sister who dies leaving Scrooge one nephew, Fred. There’s snowfall.

Looking in the window of jovial, old Fezziwig’s where Scrooge was an apprentice, we see a lively, dancing party (other actors). Outside, Scrooge picks up the merry mood. He then observes himself older, “signs of care and avarice showing.” This Scrooge is released (from promise) by his fiancé “for the love of him you once were.” She’s sad, but dignified. Here’s the only place (excepting vocals under closing credits) where the production goes south. A chorus singing undoubtedly original lyrics – “Silver and gold/ Everyone wishes for it…” – yanks us out of the past into a contemporary Hallmark present. Move on.

The Ghost of Christmas Present arrives before a backdrop of lavish, holiday décor – color for the first time startles. We spend a bit too long at Bob Cratchit’s where Mays plays the whole family. (It’s his story, not theirs.) The simple room is lit for warmth. A hearty laugh and the duo find themselves at Fred’s festivities – again, color, a festooned dining room. Scrooge lights up like a child and doesn’t want to leave. “Much they saw and far they went. Many homes they visited, but always with a happy end…The spirit left his blessing everywhere…”

Audience is not addressed until the very end during an in-one epilogue. We’re always there where Scrooge finds himself. Direction takes him all over the stage, but not a move is unmotivated.

Out from beneath the ghost’s “skirts” crawl two “wretched” children, hunger and indigence, seen as silhouettes. (These should have been youngsters, not limber adults.) A clock bongs. The Ghost of Christmas Future is large, looming, black, all shadow. It doesn’t speak. An old woman scavenges the dead Scrooge’s rooms. He’s gossiped about disparagingly in the streets and glimpses his unattended body. The Cratchits have lost Tiny Tim. This chapter ends in a graveyard.

You know the rest. Gleeful awakening alive on Christmas Day. Tremulous, then hysterical; relieved, resolved, full of largess. (I admit to having pause about ending in a graveyard, presumably to visit Marley’s headstone.) We’ve taken the journey with him.

Jefferson Mays is a national treasure, an opinion I’ve held for some time. Here the mercurial actor plays dozens of roles, male and female, young and old, transforming from one to another with vocal and physical adjustments, never dropping a stitch. (Ghost voices are manipulated by collaborative sound design.) Scrooge’s evolution is a gradual chipping away, beginning with small regrets, becoming revelations. Mays laughs, cries, trembles, and dances as if in real time.

Director Michael Arden is as imaginative and adept with film as he is with a stage. Camera work and perspective add immeasurably. For the most part less is more pervades; where it doesn’t, alternative choice works. Pacing is skillful. Variation of singular movement aids character change. Use of theater space is excellent.

Adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novella by Jefferson Mays, Susan Lyons and Michael Arden

The creative team has manifest a play with such symbiotic intention it’s difficult to tell who has left his/her stamp where. Every aspect looks and sounds so magically apt; it’s easy to see what’s not there.

Dane Laffrey (scenic and costume design), Maceo Bishop (director of photography), Ben Stanton (lighting design), Lucy Mackinnon (projection design), Joshua D. Reid (sound design), Cookie Jordan (hair and makeup design), James Ortiz (puppet design), and Nikki M. James (assistant director).

An excellent way to support the little guys, theater where it needs to be.

Photos by Chris Whitaker

The partner theater program is a joint project between Arnold’s TBD Pictures, LaJolla Playhouse, and On The Stage. In addition to La Jolla Playhouse, other partner theaters currently include La Jolla Playhouse, Actors’ Playhouse, Geffen Playhouse, George Street Playhouse, Iowa Stage Theatre Company, Sankofa Collective, South Coast Repertory, Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Springfield Contemporary Theatre, Theatre Tallahassee, and Vermont Stage with more to be announced in the coming weeks. Theaters interested in joining this partnership can email acc@tbdtheatricals.com

Tickets for A Christmas Carol are now available to purchase: www.achristmascarollive.com automatically benefiting local community theaters based on ZIP code. Proceeds from tickets purchased outside of the U.S. or non-affiliated ZIP will be divided and shared with the partner theaters.

About Alix Cohen (970 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.