Chicago Theater Review: DICKENS’ WOMEN (Chicago Shakespeare)

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by Lawrence Bommer on December 21, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


It’s been two centuries since Charles Dickens’ birth. Miriam Margolyes, famed for her portrayals in Harry Potter, The Age of Innocence, and William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet offers a well-deserved homage in Dickens’ Women, a one-person tribute directed by Sonia Fraser now playing at Chicago Shakespeare only through Saturday. Dickens’ Women rather artfully includes fictional characters from his Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Dickens’ Women at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Chicagopages with actual beings from the scribe’s past who exercised influence over an impressionable lad, one whose bout with lower-middle class poverty kept him needy and insecure—both emotionally and sexually—for 58 years. It’s a rich and often enthralling evening of causes and effects.

The literary lady who most represents Dickens for Margolyes isn’t the bird-like child-wife Dora of David Copperfield (although you can find Dora’s 17-year-old sweetness and light throughout his books as he sought the real sort in reality, like Mary Hogarth who died at 17 and thus was never spoiled or soured by life.) It also isn’t the opportunistic, soft-tippling Mrs. Gamp of Martin Chuzzlewit, unctuously soliciting the drink she dares herself to quaff. And certainly it isn’t winsome Miss Flyte of Bleak House, whose lifelong disappointment in settling the eternal Chancery Court case of “Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce” has her name her birds after all the individual insults she’s endured; she’s too delicate by half.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Dickens’ Women at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in ChicagoNo, the character who symbolizes Dickens is Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, the bitter spinster who was jilted at the altar, has frozen her home at the exact time when her heart broke, and now teaches her beautiful protégée Estella to break more hearts to avenge her evil muse. Dickens, Margolyes maintains, viewed the world askance: “He never got over anything” and remained “a deprived child” for 58 years, haunted by either the memory of a father in debtor’s prison or an impoverished mother who forced him back to the hellhole where he glued labels on bottles and wished himself and the world to destruction.

Instead, he defied and preserved it with all the sentiment it doesn’t deserve and the accuracy it does. With her expressive rubber face and frazzled hair, Margolyes could stand in for any number of Dickens’ zanies or harpies, alternating between a soubrette’s transparent seductiveness and a harridan’s stentorian humorlessness. She’s even more ingenious when she can meld the extremes, as with her passive-aggressive Mrs. Micawber, an all-suffering spouse who must find the bright side of her feckless partner or die of too much truth.

photos by Prudence Upton

Dickens’ Women
Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Chicago
scheduled to end on Dec. 22, 2012
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