I'm sorry to admit that I didn't know much about Emily Dickinson or her work before seeing this play; I'm not much of a poetry reader. As we learn in The Belle of Amherst, Emily spent much of her life in seclusion in her family home in Amherst, Massachusetts. She wrote thousands of poems, but only a handful were published in her lifetime. She became well-known as a poet only after her death. In this play, Emily (embodied by Linda Kelsey) speaks directly to the audience, as if we're visitors in her home. She tells us stories from her life, from her childhood spent with an older brother and younger sister, to her adulthood spent writing poetry and correspondence, to the death of her parents in her older years. Playwright William Luce took much of the dialogue from Emily's writing, including some of her poems, which I now know are quite beautiful and succinct, and capture the emotions of her subject matter perfectly.
|Linda Kelsey as Emily Dickinson (photo by Craig Johnson)|
The 1928 building is a perfect backdrop for this story, if a few decades after Emily's death. A small stage is set up at the far end of the room in front of the fireplace (with real flames). An area rug and a few period pieces of furniture make up Emily's room, with the all important photos of her family that she proudly shows to us. Linda wears a lovely white dress of the era, in Emily's favorite white, with hair parted down the center and gathered in a neat bun (costume design by Rich Hamson, wig design by Andrea Moriarty). As I said I didn't really have any previous impressions of Emily Dickinson, but with the design and Linda's performance, it all feels authentic and it's quite easy to be transported into Emily's world.