When you step inside to take your seat at a pew in Wesley Church to see Gerald Charles Dickens play his great-great-grandfather, Charles Dickens, you can just sense you are in for something truly special. That’s right, The Great One: the Charles Dickens. Who wrote Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Bleak House, and perhaps his most deeply Christian work meant for public consumption, A Christmas Carol. And that’s Christian as in faith, love, redemption, forgiveness, and charity.
In the solo play, To Begin With, this instinct is what Gerald relates to us in his enthralling performance as Charles, written for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher, Minnesota’s most widely produced playwright. It takes place when Charles was on an extended stay on the Isle of Wight in 1847 with his wife and children. Spurred on by the undisciplined attitude of the neighbor child whose family owns the house he is renting, he writes The Life of Our Lord with the intention that it be read to his children for their moral and spiritual edification. It should be pointed out that the undisciplined rich boy runs around in the buff at times. Perhaps not the best example for the Dickens children.
Hatcher theatrically reveals to brilliant effect how Dickens may have grappled with the problem of biblical gore and violence. He saw the problem of the sadistic content in various parts of the Bible as being frightening to young children and therefore, scaring them away from illuminations borne of reading and probing scripture. In our own time when violence and bloodshed are omnipresent in media, any parent, older relative or friend, or guardian can appreciate this concern no matter what their religion or lack of it is.
Gerald Charles Dickens is a consummate classical actor. He uses his voice with a range from delicacy to forcefulness like a well-oiled instrument. All the while he conveys colorful emotional authenticity that wrings the heart and clarifies the mind. The Life of Our Lord wasn’t published until 64 years after Dickens’s death at age 58 in 1934. This makes Gerald’s splendid presentation something uniquely intimate as well.
To Begin With
Through April 15
Historic Wesley Church, 101 E Grant St., Minneapolis