Star-Banner - November 3, 2006

Marley meets The Phantom in prequel
CFCC Theatre spins Dickens in comic play 'Marley's Ghost'

That's the sound of a loud, angry and quite agitated Jacob Marley, standing in his grave and weighed down by a heavy chain. Fans of classic literature and yuletide tales know Marley as Ebenezer Scrooge's dead business partner in Charles Dickens' novel "A Christmas Carol."

But in a twisted tale now haunting an Ocala stage, Marley's ghost was a miserable old coot with good reason to scream from the grave. Here, we meet the cynical, freshly dead Jacob Marley before he gains the wisdom to steer Scrooge away from the greedy gloom Dickens painted so well.

In Dickens' book and subsequent stage and screen adaptations, Marley's a ghost determined to help the miserly Scrooge reform and change his cold and unsavory ways by arranging the visits of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. But in the modern-day play "Marley's Ghost," we find out who Marley really is and why he became a ghost condemned to walk the Earth for all of eternity.

Central Florida Community College's drama company, CFCC Theatre, is presenting the fast-paced comedy this weekend and next at the school's newly renovated Fine Arts Auditorium.

Written by Jeff Goode and first staged in 2003 in Los Angeles, "Marley's Ghost" is a prequel to Dickens' novel that's full of laughs and insight and spirits ripe for the Halloween season. There are a few modern-day gags wedged into the play - a foam football hand, a Phantom on Heelys.

The play opens with Marley's funeral, sadly attended by only one mourner: Scrooge. (Well, actually four if you count the reverend, the gravedigger and his wife.) From there, Marley must deal with the fact he's actually dead. Enter a red-eyed, cloaked figure called The Phantom, played by Tony Slater, who is there to convince Marley of his new afterlife status.

"Marley's Ghost" provides the perfect backstory to "A Christmas Carol," said director Dave Hartley, a professor of theater and history at CFCC. Here, audiences learn how Marley came to haunt Scrooge and Marley's influence in Scrooge's life.

"Basically, Marley teaches him how to be the evil Scrooge he is. Marley's like Scrooge's mentor and that's a scary thought," Hartley said. "He's the guy who taught Scrooge how to be nasty."

Alan J. Hickey plays the role of Marley, who eventually is put on trial for all the wretched things he did while alive. The play's path ultimately leads into the opening of "A Christmas Carol."

"It's very skillfully done," Hartley said. "It takes the 'Christmas Carol' story, but it sort of sets a whole background for it that isn't there," he explained.

Hickey said he initially auditioned for the role of The Phantom, but he landed the lead of Marley - his first lead in a CFCC play.

"Scrooge is such a jerk, and Marley's even worse. He's definitely one of those characters you love to hate," said Hickey, who played in last season's "Romeo and Juliet." "The play kind of shows you what could have happened to Scrooge if he wasn't given a second chance."

All cast members in the show are CFCC students, except for the nine children in the show. Peter Prevete has acted in several plays at CFCC for five years and steps into the shoes of Scrooge in "Marley's Ghost."

"He has no redeeming qualities," he said of his character. "He's actually a seemingly nice guy who likes Christmas but through his interactions and dealings with Marley, he eventually becomes the hateful, old codger who everyone knows and loves and hopes reforms into a better person."

Hartley said he was glad to find a play that was unique and "off the wall," but still was recognizable and relatable.

"It's a familiar story that's not so familiar," he said.

Lashonda Stinson can be reached at or 867-4129.