IF YOU GO
What: British actress Miriam Margolyes explores portraits of women in the literature of Charles Dickens through dramatic readings, re-enactments and more.
When: 8 p.m. December 6 & 8; 3 p.m. matinée December 9 with post-performance talkback
Where: 2200 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel
Cost: $42 for adults, $20 for child 16 and under
Information: BIG ARTS Marks Box Office at (239) 395-0900, Strauss Theater box office at (239) 472-6862 or bigarts.org
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
NAPLES — I'll be honest. I did not enjoy the deep dive through Charles Dickens and the portraits of women in his literature offered by acclaimed British actress Miriam Margolyes on Sanibel. I love literature. I adore Professor Sprout and her magnificent talent. I just didn't get the show. You probably will.
Specifically, I was a minority of one. The rest of the house giggled when I was silent, cheered when I was baffled and clapped madly where I was perplexed. Plainly, they swooned over Little Nell, Miss Havisham, Mrs. Gamp, Mrs. Micawber, Mrs. Pipchin, the original Mrs. Mowcher and all the rest. A godly portion of the audience even lined up late on a chilly December night, post-show, to meet Margolyes, chat with her, buy her books and ask her to sign programs, newspapers, tickets stubs and anything else they had at hand.
I don't think the charming actress, dressed in a festive gold cabbage rose print and red velvet pants, signed any body parts, but she did quip that you could get her book "cheaper on Amazon!"
Margolyes possesses an undeniable and titanic talent. She and collaborator Sonia Fraser excavated the Dickens catalog wide and deep for literary nuggets involving women of all manner. Her two-hour show illustrates the characters using prose from works the characters appear in combined with Margolyes' remarkable talent for mimicry. Scenes come to life with nothing more than a chair, her voice and subtle, delicate lighting. BIG ARTS also scored a coup, securing accomplished pianist Michael Sebastian to accompany Margolyes during the show.
"Dickens' Women" also weaves in a brief history of the author himself; Margolyes offers insight on how his life influenced his writing. One amusing strand taps out a list of coquettish females who appear in the novels, all 17, all based on Dickens' young sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, who died … at 17. Another posits that Miss Havisham, the monstrous creature from "Great Expectations," was a portrait of Dickens' himself.
I grasp the concept of Margolyes intends. Hearing her spin tales of love, naughty children or recalcitrant servants - especially in the elegant Dickensian prose - only illustrates the power, brilliance and beauty of the written word.
"Story" isn't the intent of the show; I understand that. Margolyes wants audiences to celebrate Dickensian womanhood as a whole, as seen through the lens of the authors prose. She turns the spotlight on specific characters and illustrates them with specific passages. For me though, while I get the focus on literature, the spotlight gets a bit shaky when it turns to the ladies.
Second-half opener, the tale of Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble from "Oliver Twist," excites in its silliness, wit and furtive seduction. Watching Margolyes wrinkle her nose, toss her curls, giggle and squirm with delight as Corney, then leer as the sly Beadle Bumble elevates Dickens to an entirely new level.
Yet, few of the night's moments rise to that level - at least for me. No matter how well-performed, the various vignettes feel disconnected and random, unable to sustain a narrative. As charismatic as Margolyes may be (and the woman should be first on any cocktail party guest list), the out-of-context snippets feel like reading pages snatched from the Dickens catalog at random.
"Dickens' Women" offers an unparalleled opportunity to see a world-class actress performing in an up-close-and-personal setting. Her material includes some of the best-loved, most treasured works of prose in the English language. From "David Copperfield" to "Little Dorrit" to "Oliver Twist," Miriam Margolyes can fulfill some of your "Great Expectations."
What is your favorite Dickens novel? Email me, email@example.com. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.