‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol’ at NextStop Theatre Company by Julia L. Exline

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NextStop Theatre Company presents Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, an innovative, behind-the-scenes version of its predecessor, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Beautifully adapted by Tom Mula and directed by Rob McQuay, this classic tale newly unfolds through the viewpoint of Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley, giving a surprising and highly interesting new insight on the story you knew…or that is, the story you thought you knew.

Ray Ficca in 'Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol.' Photo by Jonathan Harvey.
Ray Ficca in ‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Jonathan Harvey.

Since this a one-man show and foot traffic is a non-issue, Scenic Designer Jennifer McDuffee sets the stage with three expansive platforms, which help to better distinguish between different settings and characters while giving solo performer Ray Ficca a lot to work with. The setting is not a particularly cheerful one at all; made up of aged wood and furnished with dingy antiques like a worn armchair and rusted fireplace. Underneath the age, you can see that the furniture was once handsome and of good quality, but it has not been taken care of. Lighting Designer Steve Holliday and Sound Designer Ben Allen enhance this dreary mood with icy blue hues and the rumbling of thunder. Technical Director David Phelps insures that all elemental aspects of the production work together harmoniously.

I’ve seen many different productions of A Christmas Carol over the years, and I’ve found myself bothered by the idea of Jacob Marley. Why is Scrooge offered a chance at redemption when Marley was not? It certainly did not look like he was, standing there as a miserable ghost bound in chains. But perhaps, all is not what it seems. After all, there are two sides to every story.

Dressed in simple black from head-to-foot, performer Ray Ficca takes the stage and begins to narrate, beginning at the moment of Marley’s death. Ficca is all of the characters , and uses different speeds and inflection in his voice to differentiate them, with Marley having a distinctive, guttural rasp about him. Upon Marley’s death, he enters a “dark, dusky, ill-swept hallway,” and finds himself lead to a counting house (ironic, considering his profession). Marley is told that he has not only fallen short on his “contracts,” but that he has exhausted all of his accounts. Marley is a man of numbers, and only until a highly official contract is put under his nose does he realize…he is in big trouble!

As invisible chains fall upon his body, Ficca uses impressive movement to show Marley struggling under the weight and strain of his life choices. If that isn’t enough, a “Bogle” finds himself nestled in Marley’s ear, bound to him. This playful little sprite is obnoxious, chatty, and energetic…all things that Marley despises. The drastic, split-second changes between two characters who are so different is handled nicely by Ficca, and the interaction is enjoyable to watch. Fated to wander the lands draped in chains alongside an insufferable companion leaves Marley utterly hopeless. Is there any way out of this torment? Perhaps.

Ray Ficca in 'Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol.' Photo by Jonathan Harvey.
Ray Ficca in ‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Jonathan Harvey.

Marley discovers that he can apply for a “transfer;” freedom in exchange for the completion of a task. It seems easy enough…until he is told that his task is to redeem Scrooge in 24 hours! This is an exceptionally tall order– can he make it happen? Can Marley save Scrooge as well as himself?

I won’t spoil any details, but be prepared for some profound surprises, as it turns out that Marley is much, much more involved in the redemption of Scrooge than any of us realized. The narration is brilliantly written and full of descriptive details, and Ficca juggles multiple roles in a fantastic performance. My one quibble would be that at  2 hours, this production is a lengthy one and can get a little exhausting,so be be prepared to settle in. However, if Ficca can muster the incredible stamina needed to give us this show, then certainly we can drum up the patience to watch his incredible performance.

Incredibly interesting and delivered through a powerhouse performance, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol will forever change how you view this classic tale and character.

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Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol  plays through December 29, 2013 at Next Stop Theatre Company – 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA. For tickets, call (703) 481-5930, or purchase them online.