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Laist Interview: Janet Dulin Jones and Paul Lazarus

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L to R: Janet Dulin Jones and her dog Warren, Charles Dickens, and Paul Lazarus.

Writer Janet Dulin Jones has been working on a screenplay, now a play, about the life of Charles Dickens since 1990. Director and co-writer Paul Lazarus has worked with her for the past 3 years. Now they've collaborated with the Antaeus Company, Los Angeles's classical theatre ensemble (Pera Palas, Mother Courage, Chekhov x 4) to bring Dickens to the stage. This weekend, for five performances only, Los Angeles audiences finally get a chance to sneak a look at this mysterious story - an tale of Dickens' own life and his investigations of murder, treachery, and skullduggery in 1830s London.

LAIST can't recommend this show highly enough. We first saw a shortened workshop version of the play over a year ago, and it had the audience floored. If you like murders, Brits, or Dickens, this is a unique theatrical opportunity - and you've only got five chances to see it. A Tale of Charles of Dickens will perform at the Skirball Cultural Center, October 26 through 28 at 8 pm, Saturday, October 29 at 3 pm and Sunday, October 30 at 4 pm. Tickets are $45-$20. (Yes, it's worth it!) Student discounts available. For reservations and information, call the L.A. Theatre Works Box Office at (310) 827-0889 or go to www.latw.org.

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If you can't make it to the Skirball, each performance is recorded to air on L. A Theatre Works' radio drama series, The Play’s The Thing, which you can hear every Saturday night from 10 pm to midnight on 89.3 KPCC, and is streamed live on the KPCC website (www.kpcc.org) for one week following each broadcast.

Laist spoke to Paul and Janet last week about Dickens, the writing process, Los Angeles theater, and whether there's room for a two-part play in an age of film.

Age and Occupation:
Janet: I am a writer and as any woman will tell you, I am not nearly old enough to brag about my age.

Paul: A theater director in LA never gives his age.

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?

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Janet: I was born in Los Angeles in Hollywood. I moved to Glendale after college, then, as soon as I found a place, I lived in Hollywood right under the Hollywood sign. The next move was West Hollywood, then Beverly Hills, a bi-coastal stint between Beverly Hills and New York before I finally traveled as far west as I could without living on a house boat.

Paul: About 16 years. Venice for 2. Mount Washington for 14.

Why do you choose to live in Los Angeles?

Janet: I often think if I hadn’t been born in L.A., I would have ended up here or New York because of my love of film and theatre. To sit in the Palisades Park and watch the sunset or come out of an early morning yoga class on 2nd Street and see the fog lift is something I never tire of seeing. I love that I can head downtown (not at rush hour) or to Monterey Park for some of the best Chinese food this side of Shanghai, go ride a horse at the Equestrian Center or shop for Thai chili’s in east Hollywood – and still be in L.A.. Plus, being a native, I know all the short cuts. I can have my herb garden year round and grill in January if it’s not raining.

Paul: I like dogs and gardening. You can ‘t really do either very well in New York City.

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When did you first start working as writers and directors? How did you get started?

Janet: I started writing stories at age four and never stopped. My first mentor was Waldo Salt, one of the truly great screenwriters who ever worked in Hollywood. We met in a buffet line at a large dinner party when I was just out of college. He became a great friend and was my inspiration to pursue a career as a writer. In fact, the play is dedicated to him on the last page. I always put a thank you to him at the end of every script I write.

My first feature job came to me from the screenplay from which A Tale of Charles Dickens is adapted. A woman named Deb Newmeyer read my original script, Dickens & Crime and sent it to a producer friend. He loved it and hired me to adapt a book. Dickens and Crime was probably my seventh spec script. The producer, Jonathan Zimbert, had a huge impact on my life by giving me a break. His saying “Yes” put my life in a whole new direction.

Paul: Have been directing in the theater since I graduated college, a long time. Writing is a more recent occupation. Started directing at Dartmouth then was very lucky to get an appointment as an apprentice to the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. Got my start doing a lot of off-off-Broadway in New York. First professional job was directing a play called Gray Spades at the Actor’s Studio. The lead was played by the wonderful Michael Jeter who is tragically no longer with us.