BWW Reviews: Charles Dickens Meets Lewis Carroll in A PERFECT LIKENESS at the Fremont Centre Theatre
Most of us often think about which famous historical figure or literary giant we would like to meet if we could go back in time. Turns out playwright/director Daniel Rover Singer is a passionate fan of both Charles Dickens and the Reverend Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll). Did these two men ever meet since they both lived during the Victorian era? Singer discovered that Dodgson once inquired for Dickens' address, and there germinated an idea: Although Dickens and Carroll probably never actually met, what could have happened if they had?
From there, Singer concocted this fiction about a meeting between the two men in which Dodgson, a lecturer in Mathematics at Oxford University, is also an accomplished photographer. Sending Dickens a copy of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," he invites Dickens for a portrait sitting. Dickens accepts as he must meet the man who has made him laugh. Projections designed by Jonathan Christman of the book's clever original drawings are displayed as the men discuss the fantasy characters, taking us along for the ride through Wonderland.
Turns out the men are a Victorian odd couple: Dickens (Bruce Ladd) is bawdy and irreverent; Dodgson (Daniel J. Roberts) is religious and refined. What they have in common is that they are writers who have achieved international fame, but while s welcomes it, Dodgson hides behind his moniker hoping no one will figure out he is the writer.
When the realist meets the surrealist in 1866, photography is a long and laborious process, and these two literary icons have time to engage in witty conversation as the photo session takes place. Much is revealed about what others have speculated: Dickens has a secret mistress, Nelly Ternan and it's been inferred that Dodgson's friendship with young Alice Liddell and her sisters may be unsavory. So as different as their writing styles and personalities are, it turns out they have very similar problems they want to keep hidden from the rest of the world. That's enough to bond the two men who may be kindred spirits after all.
Bruce Ladd portrays Dickens as a worldly, gregarious, opium using bon vivant whose foul language offends the fussy, quirky, uptight young Dodgson/Carroll played by Daniel J. Roberts. Both men gloriously inhabit the characters, making it seem at times as if Fagan and the White Rabbit are trying to find a middle ground on which they can communicate. Vicki Conrad's costumes enhance their differences, with both men able to move freely - including during a very comical swordfight with an umbrella and walking cane. Time Farmer's Collodion camera is eye-catching and Roberts handles the equipment with ease and great care as Dodgson certainly would have done given his fussy demeanor.
Whether you're a fan of these two literary legends or are entirely new to their work, you'll find A PERFECT LIKENESS to be suffused with the joy, laughter, love of language and the spirit of fun that the characters inspire. Whether you're 13 or 93, you'll find plenty to enjoy as the men are presented with compassion and good humor. The production is so full of life and the two actors so authentic, one wishes the meeting really had taken place.
And be sure to stay after the short break following the show when Ladd and Roberts return to the stage and read selections from the two icons literary works. On the night I attended, Roberts read Carroll's short story Bruno's Revenge about a man who sees and speaks with fairies in his garden. Roberts embodied the author's wondrous 3 characters so thoroughly, I could picture them flitting around doing their mischief. Ladd read the tempest scene from David Copperfield, sinking into the gritty storm and shipwreck with great ardor while communicating a true sense of loss. Again, we meet the surrealist and the realist with such totally different writing and presentation styles, with each character so engaging as presented by these two very talented actors.
A PERECT LIKENESS, written, directed and produced by Daniel Rover Singer. Presented by Roverzone Productions. A guest production at Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue (at El Centro), South Pasadena, CA 91030. Performances run from Friday, November 8 through December 22, 2013. Regular show times- Thurs.- Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 3pm. Dark on Thanksgiving weekend, November 28- December 1.
ADMISSION: Fridays through Sundays: $25. Students and seniors, $20. Thursdays: $20. Students and seniors $15. RESERVATIONS: (866) 811-4111. ONLINE TICKETING: www.fremontcentretheatre.com
ESTIMATED RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes, no intermission.