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Third Avenue Playhouse Brings Jacob Marley’s Redemption Story to Stage

“Marley was dead, to begin with…”

So begins Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, the redemption story of cold-hearted miser Ebenezer Scrooge. On a cold Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who has spent the seven years since his death walking the Earth bound by the chains of his own greed. Marley has come to warn Scrooge that a similar fate awaits him if he does not redeem himself. That evening, Scrooge is visited by three spirits of Christmas: the past, present and future.

After revisiting a painful childhood, seeing the present-day scenes of festivity and deprivation, and visiting a future in which Scrooge’s business associates and debtors celebrate the death of Scrooge, a “wretched man,” he awakes Christmas morning a changed and generous man.

For more than 150 years, A Christmas Carol has celebrated the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge and served as an example of the power of generosity and forgiveness. But what about the redemption of the deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, who set in motion the series of events that led Scrooge to repent?

In 1995, author and playwright Tom Mula set out to answer that question with the publication of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, a twist on the Dickens’ classic that tells the story of Jacob Marley’s “heroic behind-the-scenes efforts to save old Scrooge’s soul – and in the process, save his own.” After becoming an instant Chicago Tribute bestseller, the audio version of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol was broadcast on National Public Radio and in 1998, the play debuted at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

This December, Third Avenue Playhouse brings the one-man version of Mula’s modern classic to its small stage for a three-week run, Dec. 8-24.

Alan Kopischke stars in the lead role of the humorous and moving story about one man’s journey to save his tormented soul. Kopischke starred in A Christmas Carol at Milwaukee Repertory Theater in 1983 and a year later participated in a workshop with playwright Amlin Gray to develop a new version of the classic tale for the theater. Those experiences, combined with having seen productions and read the story many times, have given the actor a solid understanding of the values and ideas from A Christmas Carol that bleed into Mula’s telling of the tale.

Alan Kopischke stars in Tom Mula’s Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, now on stage at Third Avenue Playhouse through Dec. 24. Photo by Len Villano.

Alan Kopischke stars in Tom Mula’s Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, now on stage at Third Avenue Playhouse through Dec. 24. Photo by Len Villano.

“It’s told from Marley’s point of view so while we get the arc of the classic story, we’re getting it from a little different perspective,” Kopischke said. “I think it’s a more personal journey, I think it actually goes a little deeper emotionally. Both stories are about redemption but here we’re getting Marley’s path to redemption…Scrooge is kind of acted upon in all of this. He has the ghosts coming to him and sort of forcing him to see things and acknowledge things and confirm things. Marley is a little bit more on his own and has to sort of self-direct this journey so, to me, it’s an even more moving redemption because he takes a more active part in his redemption.”

In Mula’s Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, audiences walk away with a greater understanding of Marley’s life, how he and Scrooge met, the development and deterioration of their relationship, and how the spirit world works.

“We learn here again in Tom’s telling of it that they weren’t really friends, they were partners and I think Marley sees a lot of himself in Scrooge,” Kopischke explained. “While he doesn’t necessarily know what brought Scrooge to this point in who he is and how he’s lived his life, he sees how he has behaved throughout his life in a manner similar to Scrooge and at one point he says something to the effect that, ‘Even if you don’t deserve this, Scrooge, I want to give this to you. I want to give you a second chance.’ That, I think, is part of the beauty of Marley’s redemption is that he sees where he has made mistakes in his life and he decides simply to be generous without the recipient needing to deserve it. I think that is a beautiful gift.

“I think the imagination that Tom has brought to this story is lush, it’s vibrant. I love the world that he creates that’s both familiar but gives us all these different peeks into different corners of it we hadn’t seen before,” Kopischke added.

The strength of the one-man show has allowed Kopischke and director Bob Boles to skip the “pageantry and parade” of typical Christmas Carol productions. Instead, Kopischke explained, a simple set, costumes, lighting and sound effects allow this “great ghost story told by a master storyteller” to leverage the audiences’ imagination as much as possible.

Through this heart-warming journey of redemption and renewal, Kopischke hopes audiences walk away with a deeper understanding of love, forgiveness and redemption this holiday season.

“I think that everybody deserves a second chance,” Kopischke said. “That we don’t know the details of the life that has brought people to the point they’re at now and I think there can always be love and kindness and forgiveness and second chances that can warm the hearts of everyone involved.”

 

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 24. Performances are Dec. 9 – 10, 7:30pm; Dec. 11, 2pm; Dec. 15 – 16, 7:30pm; Dec. 17 – 18, 2pm; Dec. 21 – 23, 7:30pm and Dec. 24, 2pm. Tickets are $27 general admission, $10 students and $7 for children 12 and under. Tickets may be purchased at the TAP box office at 234 North Third Avenue (across the street for the theatre in downtown Sturgeon Bay), online at thirdavenueplayhouse.com, or by calling 920.743.1760.

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