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Charles Dickens's novels have been natural sources for dramatic presentations--you don't have to know the whole plot of one of his epics to enjoy a character or episode from it. But the London-based Oddbodies, consisting of actors Paul De Ville Morel and Tanya Scott-Wilson, don't simply perform passages from the printed page; they may incorporate a few words of description or a couple lines of dialogue (in which they skillfully display the wide range of accents necessary for Dickens's class-conscious comedy), but mostly they use extended passages of mime to communicate Dickens's vignettes. From Nicholas Nickleby there's the hero's uncomfortable dinner date with Fanny Squeers, as well as an evening at home with social-climbing milliner Madame Mantalini and her dandified gigolo husband; from Oliver Twist there's the courtship of Widow Corney by Beadle Bumble, as well as Bill Sikes's murder of his lover Nancy. (The misspelled title is a "mistake that stuck," according to Morel.) This Dickensian distillation, directed by John Mowat, offers unorthodox variations on the material: when Sikes is running from the scene of the crime, haunted by Nancy's accusing eyes, he creeps along a rooftop ledge--and, to break the tension, begins assessing the architecture of Saint Paul's. But more interesting than Oddbodies' revisionist interpretations are their superb characterizations, accomplished almost entirely through posture, gesture, and facial expression. It's a joy to watch the slim, slightly built Morel transform from the twisted cripple Smike to the straight-legged, stalwart, slightly smug Nickleby, or to see Scott-Wilson's preening Madame Mantalini fasten herself into an imaginary Victorian fashion. In effect their expert clowning is the stylized theatrical equivalent of Dickens's richly textured prose. Organic Theater Company, 3319 N. Clark, 327-5588 or 902-1500 (Ticketmaster). Through June 26: Thursday, 8 PM; Saturday, 9 PM; Sunday, 3 PM; Monday, 8 PM. $12.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Terry Moor.

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