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Marley Madness

Phil Timberlake puts his training to the test with 22 different voices.


Phil Timberlake has all the answers. He has all the roles, too. Playing 22 different characters in a 90-minute show requires extraordinary focus, and Timberlake knows what is at stake. "It all depends on me," he says. "There are no little breaks. If I go on autopilot, it will show."

On Dec. 15, 16 and 17, Phil Timberlake will perform "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," offering a new spin on the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. In this one-man version, folks will get a glimpse into the afterlife of the chain-bound Marley, the terrifying spirit who pays a visit to his former business partner on Christmas Eve.

Without a single costume change, Timberlake transforms himself — with a turn of the head, a change in focus, a new gesture, an altered voice or accent — into one of almost two dozen colorful characters. In an instant, he becomes the cranky record keeper of the hereafter, the ghosts of Christmas past and present, Mr. Fezziwig, Bob Cratchit, a woman, a couple of lads, Scrooge, Jacob Marley and the Bogle, the little sprite the size of a raisin who lives in Marley's ear.

"What Phil Timberlake does is magic," says director and Virginia Commonwealth University theater faculty member Joe Sampson, but he adds, "It takes a lot of hard work."

In September, Timberlake asked Sampson to direct the play. Four years earlier, Timberlake had seen the play's writer, Tom Mula, perform the show to wild acclaim in Chicago. Timberlake recalled the challenging one-man show and thought it would be a perfect vehicle to showcase his acting and vocal talents, and to use as part of his graduate thesis project.

Sampson was skeptical. "Another Christmas Carol play?" he remembers thinking. But after reading the inventive script and knowing Timberlake's capabilities, he agreed to direct. "He's a pro," Sampson says of his student.

After having enjoyed a 10-year professional acting career in Chicago and teaching voice at DePauw University, Timberlake decided to further his education in speech and voice pedagogy. In 1996, as a Fulbright scholar, he studied extended voice techniques for nine months at the Centre Artistique Roy Hart in France. When he set his sights on training with Voice Professor Janet Rodgers, he applied for and was accepted into the three-year graduate theater program at VCU.

Wrapping up his studies this year, Timberlake was pleased to learn about Barksdale's Boogie Nights series, which offers a venue for independent artist-initiated performances.

Next week at Barksdale, Timberlake not only will fulfill his thesis obligation, but he promises "a new kind of Christmas experience." S

"Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" will take place Dec. 15-17 at 8 p.m. at the Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn. Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for students at the door. Call 358-2810.

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