Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

A Meeting of Creative Minds: “A Perfect Likeness” imagines a literary conversation

Lewis Carroll shows Charles Dickens his camera in "A Perfect Likeness" [photo: Will Hastings]

Lewis Carroll shows Charles Dickens his camera in “A Perfect Likeness” [photo: Will Hastings]

Hypothetical meetings of the famous or legendary of history have been a standard staple of playwrights and novelists for many, many years. Take, as example, “The Meeting,” which put Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X together. It can be a tantalizing question to consider: What would these people who never actually met say to each other? How would they handle their differences?

Now a new entry in that field has arrived in South Pasadena. “A Perfect Likeness” by Daniel Rover Singer offers some conjecture on what might happen if Charles Dodson (known to the world as Lewis Carroll) and Charles Dickens – two men of the same literary age but spectacularly different dispositions – ended up in the same room. The resulting piece could have been hokey in the extreme, but thanks to researched the contrivance it uses to bring them together proves quite convincing. A strong cast also helps.

Daniel J. Roberts is Dodson, the well bred, buttoned up Oxford don – a brilliant mathematician with a flair as an amateur photographer who invites Dickens (as Dodson actually did other literary giants) to sit for his camera. Bruce Ladd is the earthy, worldly, pulled up by his own bootstraps Dickens. They have little in common, it would seem, except they are both swept up in the power of words and a fascination with the changes of their age.

Roberts gives Dodson just enough hesitant decorum to match his surroundings. Still, he is able to also deliver a sense of the excitement held in check in a man doomed by his particular profession to, among other things, celibacy. Ladd gives Dickens that expansive quality for which he was known, yet makes him as observant and insightful as someone must be to write novelized exposes of the evils of his time.

A moment of literal mesmerism, with Daniel J. Roberts and Bruce Ladd [photo: Will Hastings]

A moment of literal mesmerism, with Daniel J. Roberts and Bruce Ladd [photo: Will Hastings]

All the basic elements are there: Dodson’s passion for the innocence of children, Dickens’ fascination with hypnotism and his inability to stay still. Although the process has been edited some for time constraints, it even gives a partial feel for what it would be like in that day and age to sit for a photo.
The set, also designed and built by playwright and director Singer, is a wonder in itself: the perfect Victorian don’s room, trinkets and all.

In the end, one appreciates the art and the accuracy. Dodson’s child photography is approached not as leering pedophilia but (especially since parents were always present) a genuine fascination with childhood as an experience – which seems to be borne out by modern scholars. Dickens’ grim starting place sometimes rumbles under a moment of flippancy, and his passion for the good life echoes his own and others’ statements about his later years.

In short, “A Perfect Likeness” proves charming, if not wildly deep, accurate in the important ways, and quite a satisfying evening. Stay after on some nights for readings by “the authors” from “their” works.

What: “A Perfect Likeness” When: Through December 22, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday Where: Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena How Much: on Thursdays $20, seniors and students $15; Fridays through Sundays $25, seniors and students $20 Info: (866) 811-4111 or http://www.fremontcentretheatre.com

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