Review- Letters to the Beloved- Perilous Mouths


By: Neil MacDonald

When was the last time you looked at your pocket change? Really gave it a good once over. The change that we handle daily is paid little heed, seen it, dealt with it, handled it, paid whatever with it. Familiarity of the common currency in use breeds complacency.


However, give anyone a coin they've never seen before, one from some far off land and that coin is examined, markings noted on both sides, fingers running over the edge and rubbing at both sides.


Such a coin, metaphorically speaking, is proffered by Perilous Mouths Entertainment's "Letters to the Beloved: The Tale of Miss Charles Dickens”. 'Tis a conflicted coin indeed. On the one side of it is Charles Dickens’ face and legacy, like a gummy penny stuck to the floor (or perhaps super-crazy-glued there) and oft trod upon with familiar footsteps. We all know something of the famous writer but how many have stopped to contemplate the flip-side of that coin. Claire Stearns (as writer and director) has not only pried up the penny but polished off that long-neglected opposite face.


What to expect should you spend your coppers to see "Letters to the Beloved"? A clean minimalist set of a few suitcases, a table, two chairs and some letters let the quintet of performers focus your attention on Catherine Hogarth's life with Mr Dickens.


The pretext for exploring the rise and demise of Mrs Dickens' marriage is a packet of Mr Dickens' letters-to-his-wife, discovered by their daughter Katey Perugini (Helen Cannon). Perugini isn't sure what to make of the letters - of whether her father ever loved her mother or whether to publish the letters - so she seeks advice from her friend and confidante George Bernard Shaw (Andy Fullard). 


We're introduced to the young Hogarth debutante (Rachel Zweig) and follow her and her elder alter ego, the spiritually wizened Mrs Dickens (Kath O'Connor) through the marriage timeline with Mr Dickens. Friend to both Mr and Mrs Dickens, Mark Lemon (Jai Ignacio, in addition to Italian tour guide and other incidental roles) provides the sounding board of advice for Mrs Dickens throughout, from calm sailing leaving port, so to speak, to turbulent passages and even after the marriage has landed on the rocks.


The story is an intriguing one, though distractions occasionally pull one out of the narrative. The actors are at times less than fully lit, depending on the blocking. An abrupt transition in one character's mood may have been better kindled to the boiling point. At times the bickering between the young and old Mrs Dickens seems counterintuitive: lines spoken by the younger that would seem more appropriate in the mouth of the elder and vice-versa — and yet this may have been an effect employed on purpose; it certainly makes the audience think harder and potentially empathize with Mrs Dickens more.


Distractions and great expectations aside, the cast provide a convincing portrait and make one want to take a closer look at the flip-side of the two-headed Dickens' coin. You may not become a Mrs Dickens numismatic but it certainly is worthy of your performance purse or dramatic collection.


Letters to the Beloved is playing through June 6th. For more information, click here.


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