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Marley's ghost returns to the Roche Harbor Pavilion in Island Stage Left production

Ann Cozzalio returns for her 2008 role in Island Stage Left
Ann Cozzalio returns for her 2008 role in Island Stage Left's production of 'Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol,' Dec. 11-24 in the Roche Harbor Pavilion.
— image credit: John Sinclair / Concepia.com

How many years does it take to make a tradition?

Although only in its second Christmas run, Island Stage Left’s “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” was so well received last year and so anticipated this year, that it now seems part of the San Juan Christmas scene.

“People get attached to Christmas shows,” says Helen Machin-Smith, co- founder of Island Stage Left and director of “Marley.”

Last year, the show ran from Nov. 20 to Dec. 20, yet Machin-Smith says people approached her to say they wished they had seen it and requested a repeat for the next year.

With the exception of the production team, this year’s rendition stands to be similar to last. The cast members are the same and Machin-Smith is leaving the staging and set unchanged. The play’s aesthetic is sparse, with few set pieces and the cast in contemporary dress.

There are no Dickensian embellishments.

Machin-Smith says that this is one of many things that she finds appealing in the production. “I like that kind of theater. I like it when the audience gets to use their imagination.”

The play was written by Tom Mula, an actor himself. Informed by his on-stage experience, Mula crafted a piece that, as Machin-Smith says, “works very well dramatically.”

The story evolved from Mula’s original book version of the narrative to a one-man show to its present incarnation as a stage piece.

Although there are four cast members, each plays more than one character.

Chris DeStaffany, for example, acts as many as six characters. “I go from playing one of the meanest people in the play to one of the most upbeat, all in the space of about eight lines,” DeStaffany says. The cast, however, is positive about the challenge, saying it is a fun holiday piece to perform. After all, they have done it before.

Which is perhaps a good thing, given that the company has only two weeks to rehearse, with four days to set up and practice in the performance space. This seems daunting in light of the fact that last year they had three weeks in the space with a five-week total of rehearsals. However, Machin-Smith remains cheerful.

“The aim of this show is to put everyone in the Christmas spirit,” she says, remarking on the change in tone from the company’s current, more sober performance, “Rabbit Hole.”

It will be a fast turnover between the plays, for although originally planned to be shown at the fairgrounds, “Marley” will now show in Roche Harbor Pavilion, replacing “Rabbit Hole.” This means that part of those four days running up to opening night will be taken up with dismantling the “realistic and intricate” set of the current play to make way for “Marley.”

Perhaps the most festive touch will be the Christmas Eve performances. These are planned for 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. with the addition of wine at the intermission and a “big blazing fire” in the fireplace. Machin-Smith urges people to e-mail or call if they plan to attend, to avoid being turned away.

She admits “we would all go bats” if “Marley” was repeated every year, but suggests they might consider doing it every two years, or have a set of Christmas plays that rotate. “People in cities go see the ‘Nutcracker’ or the ‘Messiah,’ or ‘Christmas Carol’ every year,” Machin-Smith says, and so loves the idea of providing the community with a Christmas theater tradition.

The cast: Daniel Mayes, Ann Cozzalio, Christopher DeStaffany, Krista Strutz.

Performance schedule:
— Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.
— Sundays, 4 p.m.
— Dec. 22 and 23, 7:30 p.m.
— Christmas Eve, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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