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Meet the real Jacob Marley

Get a look at a surprising new side of an old friend when Douglas Rowe, artistic director of Ashland New Plays Festival, reads playwright Tom Mula's "Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol."

This hilarious romp through the grittier side of a Victorian Christmas is a tale of redemption and remorse, the fear of loss, the joy of love and the way we can find our own salvation in our care of others.

Whether your introduction to crotchety businessman Ebenezer Scrooge was from Charles Dickens' 1843 novel, the 1951 black-and-white movie with Alastair Sim or the musical madness of Michael Caine and The Muppets, everyone is familiar with the story.

Scrooge has no use for festivity, even at Christmas. After resentfully dismissing his timid clerk, Bob Cratchit, so the man can spend the holiday with his loving wife and family, Scrooge is swept into a nightmare. The ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley, appears — warning that Scrooge will be visited by three more ghosts who will show the bitter man the error of his cold-hearted ways.

Marley is the first person mentioned in Dickens’s classic tale: “Marley was dead, to begin with.” When he finds himself in an unsatisfactory afterlife, Marley seeks his own salvation by taking on the monumental task of redeeming that “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, covetous old sinner” Scrooge.

"Scrooge? I have to redeem old Scrooge? The one man I knew who was worse than I was? Impossible!"

So begins the real story behind Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" — the story of Marley's heroic behind-the-scenes efforts to save old Scrooge's soul — and his own in the process. Aided by a Bogle, a malicious little hell-sprite with an agenda of his own, their hilarious journey takes them from the Jaws of Death to the Mouth of Hell — and beyond. This irreverent, funny, and, ultimately, deeply moving story retells Dickens' classic with warmth and infectious zest. 

These adventures are the basis of the reading by Rowe, a veteran actor of stage and screen. The reading will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 15, at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased online at ashlandnewplays.org or at Paddington Station, 125 E. Main St.

Rowe, the creative guru behind ANPF for many years, is stepping down from the festival's artistic director position as of the end of the recently concluded 2014 season. The festival brings playwrights from around the country to stage readings of their plays. Each year, it puts out a call for new plays and receives as many as 200 or more scripts, which are read by teams of volunteers and go through a selection process in which the top 10 or so scripts are given to Rowe, who selects four plays to be given staged readings.

In addition to his stage work, movie and TV credits, Rowe was artistic director of the Laguna Playhouse in Southern California, where he hired young actors such as Harrison Ford and Mike Farrell, for many years. He came to Southern Oregon in 1997 when he was cast in the part of Willie Lohman in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." He stayed on at OSF for five seasons and has since acted in movies and on stage while providing the artistic leadership for ANPF.

Theater veteran Doug Rowe presents his annual reading of 'Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol.' Photo courtesy of Geri Mathewson