“Most know Charles Dickens (1812-1870) as one of the most popular and successful writers in the English language. But during his lifetime the author of “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol” became somewhat of a superstar and earned a fortune delivering dramatic readings, including two wildly successful tours of the United States.
Actor Neil Flint Worden, as Dickens, relives one of these American shows in “The Very Dickens!,” which opened at City Hall Arts Center in Montpelier, the closing production of Lost Nation Theater’s Winterfest 2011. Worden’s performance Thursday proved fascinating. Playwright-director Gaen Murphree, in collaboration with Worden, created the show after researching Dickens’ performances in America. The full-length show, which was workshopped and premiered at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater last June, opens with a re-creation of what Dickens’ opening remarks might have been — using the writer’s own words — followed by two dramatic readings. Despite Worden’s effective accent, it took a moment to adjust to the 19th century’s flowery and sometimes roundabout way of speaking. But Worden soon drew one into the immensely attractive character — as Dickens must have done.
In the first half, Worden as Dickens delivered a powerful dramatic reading of the tragedy of Little Em’ly, Ham and Steerforth from “David Copperfield,” portraying each character, as Dickens himself did. Worden’s characterizations are terribly dramatic — again, as Dickens was said to have done — and entirely convincing. It is highly unlikely that anyone ended the first half with dry eyes. Conversely, in the second half, there were fits of uncontrolled laughter throughout the audience as Worden relived an unfortunate tea party in “Nicholas Nickleby.” Fanny Squeers, the unpleasant and unattractive daughter of the headmaster of the school where Nicholas is teaching, has amorous feelings for the handsome teacher. So she invites Nicholas,along with her friend Tilda and her oafish fiancé, for tea. But Nicholas, oblivious to Fanny’s intentions, has eyes only for Tilda.Everything spins out of control — hilariously. Worden has a great timeplaying all of these characters, as did Thursday’s audience enjoying them.
The only criticism of the performance is that the introduction segment felt a bit drawn out — it might have been well interrupted by a shortreading. Regardless, it was a fascinating evening. The production, directed by Murphree, benefited from simple but elegant staging and Jeffrey Salzberg’s subtle and effective lighting. Many attending Thursday’s audience left “The Very Dickens” intending to immediately begin rereading this great author.”
“Neil- Bravo doesn't come remotely close. You were spectacular last night. I was transported. I hope the house is full tonight. Thank you for sharing your remarkable gifts.”
“I was absolutely transported to Dicken’s 1868 tour of America last night. I wept openly at the end of the fist act and couldn’t stop laughing during the tea scene. Thank you for an unbelievable evening of theater. I’m telling everyone to go see it.”
“Brilliant…Bravo! Your many, many characters were all so carefully etched and created. What a Tour de Force!”
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