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Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol Demands Stamina from Both Actor and Audience

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'Tis the season to be jolly, and in Miami apparently, 'tis also the season for one-man shows. The Arsht Center has David Sedaris' The SantaLand Diaries, and a few miles southwest, Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre is putting on Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol. Starring South Florida stage veteran Ken Clement who performed in the role nine years ago at the New Theatre, the show is impressively acted. It's just not very well written.

In this alternative angle on Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol, writer Tom Mula presents the events of Dickens' famous Christmas tale from the perspective of Scrooge's lifelong business partner Marley, now seven years dead.

From the get-go, it's impossible not to compare writer Mula's flowery prose to Dickens' understated style. It's especially impossible because the two writers' words are sometimes placed side by side. The first few lines of the play are completely Dickensian: "Marley was dead. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clerk, the clergyman, the undertaker, and the chief mourner."

Compare that to Mula's syrupy narration during the escapades of the ghost of Christmas present: "They flew on a cloud of laughter, and everywhere they touched was blessed." Uck.

During another scene, Clement, who inhabits 18 characters throughout the play, alternately portrays Marley and the little spirit guide Bogle as Marley tries on a disguise. Bogle first praises Marley's appearance, then tempers the praise when Marley seems to get a bit high on it. This and many other exchanges between characters were obviously supposed to be funny, but the writing was so tepid that only a handful actually got audible laughs from the audience.

For Clement's part (which, at an hour and a half of non-stop monologue, is immense), the eloquent actor, whose round physique and benign open stance we sheepishly admit reminded us of a smart version of Family Guy Peter Griffin, did a wonderful job. Clement's clear, booming voice easily shifted from one dialect and intonation to another, and another, and another, almost always landing back at the straight narrator's voice without a hiccup. He altered his postures and facial expressions for each character, and in one of the funniest moments of the whole play, literally rolled down from one platform to another to play both Scrooge and the little boy beneath his window.

The costuming was simple: Clement was outfitted with a neat vest and tapered leg pants that would presumably pass for casual clothing in 19th century London. The lighting effects were spare but remarkable: a set of glowing light fixtures indicated a starry night sky; a flash from the corner of the stage indicated lightning; and glowing red and green lights indicated intense moments in the plot. The same could be said for the snippets of choral music that were played to illuminate certain bits of narration.

Though Clement's perfect storybook voice, the seamless execution, and the feel-good tale made us feel at times like we were watching a Disney production, we question director David Arisco's recommendation that patrons bring all local young people to the show. During our visit, we saw a number of adult heads bobbing. So while Clement's consistent attention and stamina were certainly admirable (on some days, he'll be performing the show twice!), they are not necessarily contagious.

Jacob Marley's A Christmas Carol runs Wednesday through Sunday (with exceptions) from December 7 to January 1 at the Miracle Theatre. Performances are at 8 p.m. or 2 p.m. Tickets cost $15 to $48. Go to actorsplayhouse.org or call 305-444-9293.

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