The Blue Barn Theatre has mounted what is sure to be an awards season darling with their Christmas show, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol. This play is storytelling at its finest. At times uproariously hilarious, while heartbreakingly dramatic at others, this wonderful play tells the story of Jacob Marley’s redemption.
Having recently died and gone to hell, Jacob Marley is given one chance at saving his soul from eternal damnation if he is able to convince his old partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, to have “a complete and willing change of heart” in 24 hours. He is aided in his task by a mischievous sprite known as the Bogle, who has stakes of his own riding on Marley’s success.
Nils Haaland gives a sensational performance as Jacob Marley. As the show’s central character and narrator, Haaland is often called upon to paint intricate pictures with nothing more than his words so the audience can “see” the action of the story and Haaland is more than up to the challenge. With shifts of body and inflection, Haaland makes you feel the agony of being weighed down by heavy chains, the utter despair of damnation, and the loneliness of a little boy who lost his mother and was despised by his alcoholic father. Yet, on the turn of a dime, Haaland becomes the endearing (and very Cockney) Ghost of Christmas Past and the larger than life Ghost of Christmas Present. Haaland’s versatility at comedy and drama makes for a performance that is a Christmas gift for all.
As the Bogle, Bill Grennan proves himself the equal of Haaland’s Marley. Grennan brings a terrific physicality to this role as he glides about the stage and seems to possess an energy that his body can barely contain. Grennan’s knack for comedy allows him to easily spout off insults and witticisms, yet he also demonstrates some impressive dramatic depth as his relationship with Marley thaws throughout the course of the show. Grennan does a fabulous job peeling off the crusty layers of the Bogle to reveal a great heart. Be certain to watch Grennan during the Bogle’s silent moments as he reacts to the events going on around him. His expressions tell more of a story than words ever could.
Kevin Barratt’s Scrooge would make Dickens proud. This is Scrooge as he should be: malignant, repugnant, grasping, greedy, and almost utterly beyond redemption. He is truly one to be feared. But Barratt is just as convincing showing the redemption of Scrooge. He gives Scrooge flashes of likability and humanity as he slowly changes his heart and cuts a very pitiable figure when Scrooge thinks all is lost at the hands of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. When he finally manages to redeem himself, you’ll want to give a cheer as well.
While all the actors play multiple roles, Scott Working has his work cut out for him by playing the most roles. However, he makes it look easy as he jumps from the mysterious Record Keeper, to the put upon Bob Cratchit, to the bullying Dick Wilkins. Working’s chameleon like transformations and performances were truly a highlight of the evening.
The story is further enhanced by a simple set (designed by Martin Scott Marchitto) that consists of a giant chain, exceptional lighting design by Bill Van Deest, and a soundtrack that supports key moments in the show.
Kevin Lawler’s direction is nothing short of a masterpiece as he has crafted a story with pitch perfect pacing, virtuoso performances, and effects that improve as opposed to distract from the show.
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol runs through December 22 at the Blue Barn Theatre located at 614 S 11th St in Omaha, Nebraska. Showtimes are 7:30pm Thursday-Saturday and 6pm on Sundays. (Note: There is no show on December 5th, but an extra showing will be held at 2pm on December 15). Ticket prices are $25 for adults and $20 for students, seniors (65+), and TAG members. Reservations can be made at 402-345-1576. Tickets are going fast. The 6pm December 15 show and the December 13 show are sold out.