Breathtaking Rep Production Brings Live Theater Back

Forget Pfizer and Moderna. Forget the FDA and Warp Speed.

Under the gentle guidance of Mark Clements, The Rep has delivered a vaccine that protects against an exhausted spirit, a lonely heart and lingering fear about what lies on the road ahead.

Thanks to a spectacular combination of brilliance, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”  has reminded all of us why we love live theater and why it is so important in the life of a city.

The thrill of live theater is in being no longer alone. Sharing space and experience for two hours out of your life. Being a participant in what happens on the stage. Becoming part of a story.

In his 10 years as The Rep’s Artistic Director, Mr. Clements has created many memorable productions that rival anything you could see in Chicago, Los Angeles or, yes, even on Broadway.

But this may well be his crowning achievement so far.

Since March theater companies have struggled to survive, to practice their art, to deliver. I have seen any number of “virtual” productions which had varying degrees of success. 

But this….this breathtaking event…sets a standard that calptures life on a high wire and there is no danger of falling. 

This is a one actor play with Milwaukee favorite Lee E. Ernst playing Marley, Scrooge and a dozen or so other roles. He is accompanied by Dan Kazemi who is the Foley artist. Named after a sound effects artist, Jack Foley, the task is to provide the sounds. 

And what sounds they are. Pages turning, coins in a pocket rattling, chains rattling as well, thunder, lightning, wind and dozens of other sounds that often fill out the pantomime on the stage.

Chicago playwright Tom Mula wrote “Marley” and it’s the story of The Christmas Carol told through the eyes of Jacob Marley. Marley is dead and in hell for the life he lived on earth. But, like all good Charles Dickens works, Marley is faced with a task that will take him back to London and find him tethered to an assistant who guides his redemption.

Mr. Clements, as he always does, assembled a cast of designers who created settings, costumes, lights and sounds. And then he partnered with Chicago’s HMS Media, a company that specializes in creating online versions of live productions,

HMS has an enviable record of work, including a number of Emmy awards. And the company brought out all its big guns for this production. 

As the play moved through its paces, I struggled to come up with a word for what it was. Not a movie. Not a television show. After a good night’s sleep, I finally got it.

This was live theater. Mr. Clements staged a play, the same way he has staged plays throughout his distinguished career.

The medium may have been different, but the play was as real as it could be. 

How real, you ask?

My wife and I watched it on my computer, sitting at my desk in my office.

When it came to an end, we both stood up and applauded. 

Cast: Lee E. Ernst
Dan Kazemi

Production credits: Director, Mark Clements; Scenic Designer, Arnold Bueso; Lighting Designer, Jason Fassl; Costume Designer, Alexander B. Tacoma; Sound Designer, Andre J. Pleuss; Dialect Coach, Gale Childs Daly; Production Associates, Kimberly Carolus, Becca Lindsey; Production Photographer, Michael Brosilow. “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” streams through Dec. 24. Tickets are available at

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