INsiders: Tale of Two Cities

The start of my third year with this prestigious group turned out to be one of the best meetings yet, much more fun than one would expect in a lecture about a famous and often-discussed book/play/story.
First, a little background: The INsiders is a discussion group that meets during the run of each play at A Noise Within (not counting the annual A Christmas Carol). Some people liken it to an old-fashioned salon—a term invented in 16th Century Italy, but that’s another story—where people gathered to banter about the art of the day, usually literature and poetry. For those who don’t know, A Noise Within is a relatively famous theater company in Pasadena, known for being a tiny powerhouse amongst the giants of the stage world. The theater is easily accessible, as it is right off the 210 freeway, as well as being directly at a stop of the Metro Gold Line light-rail train.
Every INsiders gathering has two guests, one a distinguished scholar who usually teaches the work being discussed, the other an actor involved in the production. At this past Tuesday’s meeting the acting guest was Emily Goss, who portrays Lucie. She’s one of the few actors at A Noise Within whom I was familiar with before seeing her on the stage here. In this episode of the You Tube series Princess Rap Battle, she played Goldilocks (behind Cinderella, not the one in red), but with her newly brown/red hair she no longer fits that role.
The scholarly guest was Dr. Lana L. Dalley, a professor of English Lit at Cal State Fullerton. Far from the stereotype of a stodgy academic in tweed, she was instantly notable for her short blonde hair and script tattoo on her right arm; when asked about it later, she admitted it read “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress,” which is the first line from Middlemarch, by George Eliot. She’s also an X-Files fan, as we’ll see later.

Armed with computer slides that were both amusing and educational, Dr. Dalley regaled us for the next two hours with little-known tidbits on the life of Charles Dickens, as well as placing his life and works into context. The first note that struck me was the reveal of Dickens World! Yes, an amusement park was built around his novels, with such features as a water ride, haunted house, and animatronic show. Even though I would have never thought to go, I’m disappointed I won’t have the chance, as it has since closed down.
Unlike most famous authors, Dickens never wanted to be a writer. Like Shakespeare, he was more interested in acting, but missed his first audition due to sickness. He did eventually work on the stage, but ended up writing to make money, eventually becoming so famous that at the height of his popularity he did tours around England as well as America, and was reportedly quite the diva about it. He even had a rider that would put most rock stars to shame.
One of the most intriguing tidbits for me was his friendship and collaboration with Wilkie Collins, a vastly underrated author whose most famous works were The Woman in White and The Moonstone, some of the best early British mysteries.
At one point Dr. Dalley showed movie posters of some of Dickens’ works, the first being a recent Bleak House production starring Gillian Anderson. . . except she called her “Scully.” Anyone who can reference The X-Files during a English Lit lecture is more than okay in my book.
The lecture ended on a fun note about Tale of Two Cities having the first ever mention of potato chips:
“Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.”
I don’t know how oil can be reluctant, but it sounds awesome. I might argue, though, that since fries are called chips in England, this isn’t so much about potato chips as French fries, which I love a thousand times more, but I digress.
It felt like there wasn’t as much time for questions as usual, but since Dr. Dalley let us interrupt her whenever we wanted, there wasn’t much left to ask. The lecture was so entertaining that poor Emily spent most of the time as a fellow listener, but did get to bring some insights into her portrayal of Lucie.

If I’ve piqued your interest in attending, here are the remaining dates for the 2017/18 season:
The Madwoman of Chaillot | Oct. 24, 2017
Mrs. Warren’s Profession | Nov. 21, 2017
Henry V | Feb. 27, 2018
A Raisin in the Sun | March 27, 2018
Noises Off | Apr. 24, 2018

In addition to the guests and discussion, you get refreshments—cookies and strawberries are the favorites—and if you arrive early you can join a lot of the attendees for dinner beforehand, usually Chinese food (I go to the burger joint).
Fair warning: it does cost, though it counts as a tax-deductible donation. For more info, contact Alicia Green, the Director of Education & Community Outreach, at education@anoisewithin.org or call 626-356-3104. (Don’t be scared, she’s a sweetie.)

;o)

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