"Dickens' Women," first performed by star and co-creator
Margolyes (whose screen appearances include the nurse in
The man turned out his wife, Catherine, after lambasting her in print as an unfit mother and using her younger sister, Mary, who died in his arms, as the model for the saccharine Little Nell of "The Old Curiosity Shop." The unifying thread in "Dickens' Women" — aside from his "icky" idealization of 17-year-old girls — is how he could turn his encomia to the rosy-cheeked, tiny-figured innocence of youth into blistering warts-and-all portraits of women who dared to grow old, rendering their previous alluring naivete as doddering foolishness in his eyes.
Such was the case with his first love, Maria Beadnell, who went from providing the model for charming and mercurial Dora in "
And so it goes throughout the show. What anchors the whole is Margolyes' cunning shifts from exaggerated caricatures to crystal-clear revelations about the twisted psychological needs that drove Dickens to create his women. Like other men who are public progressives, Dickens remained a chauvinist in his personal life.
Yet the most startling moment in "Dickens' Women" comes when Margolyes stands in stark profile in a single bright light, delivering the painful recollections of Miss Wade (identified by Margolyes as a lesbian), also from "Little Dorrit." As Margolyes' Miss Wade recalls the cruel machinations she endured in youth at the hands of another young woman, it becomes clear that Dickens imbued some of his darkest and most memorable female creations with the same autobiographical unfulfilled longings and resentments that drove his greatest work. Margolyes finds the beating heart underneath the hearty bluster and heartless scheming that so often circumscribes his women.
When: Through Saturday
Where: Upstairs at
Running time: 2 hours