November 21, 2003




A 'Marley' on the move


By Rob Kendt

Special to the Times


It's the staging that's challenging in Circle X's rich new holiday confection, "Marley's Ghost." Jeff Goode's play is a smart, engaging prequel to "A Christmas Carol" that stirs in some wicked whimsy a la Lewis Carroll and ultimately conveys the same inspirational message of hope and forgiveness as the original.


Less forgiving is director Matthew Bretz's ambitious roving production on the grounds of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Indeed, some theatergoers will find its physical demands downright Dickensian, with scarce street parking and a long walk at the outset, followed by a fair amout of standing and peering to catch a series of fast-paced scenes among the gravestones .


Theatergoers who are duly warned and up for the adventure, though, will witness a rather exquisite blend of foolery and feeling. Goode conceives Marley as cooler, more cynically calculating, than the cranky Scrooge. And Keythe Farley, with his blend of drollery and depth, is an ideal match for the role. So is wiry Bob Clendenin as Scrooge, here a supporting player in a scheming back story replayed at Marley's afterlife tribunal, where a two-story-tall judge (Johann McKay), equipped with endless arms and a dry wit, presides over a Mad Hatter-esque prosecutor (Kevin Fabian) and a mute wraith (Richard Augustine).


The design throughout is inventive, often inspired (sets are by Gary Smoot, lighting by Geoff Korf, costumes by Cynthia Herteg), with the graveside setting lending an ambience both creepy and transcendent.


Transcending the production's physical challenges requires only comfortable shoes, warm clothes and an open mind.