Here is a witty and revealing play that imagines a meeting in 1866 between two legendary figures, Charles Dickens (54) and Lewis Carroll (34). While Dickens' career is at its peak, Carroll, still unknown, has sent him Alice in Wonderland and invited him for a portrait sitting. It is a duel of personalities, with Carroll (Charles Dodgson) prim, yet with sudden bursts of eccentric high spirits, and Dickens, urbane and observant, smug in his heavenly sphere of success. At first he dismisses Carroll’s writing, but in the end acknowledges he is a fellow artist who sublimates the sorrows and joys of his life into stories.
Playwright/director Daniel Rover Singer also explores the personal secrets that color our impression of each man, the writers’ genius versus the questionable human actions. In our modern day, Lewis Carroll’s love of children rouses suspicion and has tarred him with a terrible name, while Dickens’ cruel rejection of his wife to take up with a young actress has a cynical familiarity today. Singer asks where do these words, these books, that light up our souls and torment our hearts really come from? Perhaps genius has its own logic, or as his Dickens says, we just tell our own stories.
At the curtain, we are invited to take a break and then hear Carroll and Dickens read from their work. Here was an optional but necessary Epilogue. As I laughed at Carroll’s charming unfamiliar fairy tale, and shuddered at Dickens story of a tragic loss at sea, I experienced the revelation of the play. We have met two men with human failings, were perhaps shocked a little by their actions, but their sublime work is beyond judgment.
Bravo to actors Daniel J. Roberts (Carroll) and Bruce Ladd (Dickens) who, while embodying their characters with depth and sensitivity, manage to also boisterously entertain us. Rover Singer’s set, Will Hastings lighting and Vicki Conrad’s costumes, beautifully capture the elegant Victorian atmosphere.
Presented by Roverzone Productions.
At Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue (at El Centro), South Pasadena, through December 22. RESERVATIONS: (866) 811-4111 or www.fremontcentretheatre.com
Reviewed in the December issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY