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Arts & Culture

2014 brings city-wide celebration of Charles Dickens

Orlando Shakes’ massive production of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ plays the starring role

Photo: Photo by Tony Firriolo, License: N/A

Photo by Tony Firriolo


through March 9 | Orlando Shakespeare Theater, 812 E. Rollins St. | 407-447-1700 | orlandoshakes.org | $20-$40

Victorian novelist Charles Dickens toiled in a blacking factory, edited periodicals, advocated for abolition, sired 10 children and kept a much younger mistress – but he never visited Orlando. That fact hasn’t stopped our town’s cultural institutions from rallying around the writer for a yearlong “What the Dickens?” city-wide celebration of his 202nd birthday. Throughout 2014, you can attend free Dickens readings and film screenings at the downtown public library; view Dickens-inspired artwork at the Orange County Administration Building; and compete in monthly “First Tuesday” Dickens trivia nights at Stardust Video and Coffee, hosted by Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs director Terry Olson. There’s even an incarnation of the author (in the form of actor Jay Becker), who celebrated “his” birthday with a cake at Loch Haven Park last Friday and will continue making appearances around town all year.

So, what the Dickens is up with Orlando’s obsession over a long-expired artist with no local connections? According to Olson, Orlando’s current Dickens devotion is significant because “he had a profound impact on great societal changes during his time and can speak to the issues that lie behind many of today’s societal problems. He helps us get better as a community, and in the process makes us laugh and cry together.”

Jim Helsinger, artistic director of Orlando Shakespeare Theatre and co-director of its current two-part production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a centerpiece of the Dickens project, was recently quoted in the Orlando Sentinel saying, “I’ve heard since the day I got here that Orlando’s a town without culture. It’s time to say that’s not true. … If we get the support in attendance [at Nickleby], it will be proof that we can go out and take the big risk. But if we don’t get the support, it will be hard for groups to do something like this again.” The marketing campaign also equates attendance with artistic appreciation, prompting patrons to “prove you’re a true theater lover” by purchasing multi-ticket packages.

Shakes is selling Nicholas Nickleby on its impressive statistics: 27 performers, 150 characters, 200-plus costumes, and most especially the six-and-a-half-hour hour running time. Patrons at double-header “marathon” performances (Feb. 15, Feb. 22, March 1, March 8 and March 9) are awarded badges of honor, and costumed actors jauntily chat out of character with patrons about how long the play is before curtain. Honestly, a nine-hour day (including three intermissions and a two-hour dinner break) is nothing to hard-core Fringe Festival fans, and barely compares to two Hobbits or a Downton Abbey binge-watch. This production isn’t even the whole megillah, as David Edgar’s prize-winning original adaptation has had two hours edited out – apparently including much of its heart, brains and social conscience.

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