PICKSINSIX Review: The Belle of Amherst
“Words are my life.” E. Dickinson
What’s it about… the 1976 William Luce play is a conversation between the poet Emily Dickinson and the audience that comes to life in the extraordinary singular performance of Kate Fry, who asks, and answers, the questions: “I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you – Nobody – too?”
Why you should go… Artfully directed by Sean Graney, Fry is delightfully engaging, embracing the beauty of nature, life’s complexity and our curiosity for and about Dickinson’s work.
What stands out ... The scholarly interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and letters is the basis for what we know about her life and times. Fry’s thoughtful delivery, unfolding Dickinson’s inner thoughts on her destiny, “Words are my life.” … on the beauty of nature, “That must have been the sun” … her infinite ability to display childhood fascination, “I wish we were always children.” and hope, that is, “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers - that perches in the soul.”
A poetic journey... there are four distinct movements within the full framework of the piece, tracing Dickinson’s early years and education, adolescence and family, love, and death. Dickinson’s world is a place where words matter and there is much clarity in the telling of this story, sprinkled with more than a bit of whimsy and wonder. Fry is as comfortable reciting the recipe for black cake as she is in absorbing editorial criticism or understanding the emotional complexities of love and loss.
Engaging warmth... Much more scholarship has been created since Belle of Amherst first appeared on Broadway in the mid 70s. Scholars have debated whether or not the under-pinning of a relative lifetime of isolation and darkness is a fair representation of both Emily Dickinson’s lifestyle and her personality. There is a darker, more melancholy choice here that Fry skillfully avoids. This is an evening steeped in engaging warmth, humor and verse. Arnel Sancianco's scenic design creates a picture within a picture of this isolation -- a crisp, bright sun room suspended within her aging home.
The takeaway... There is but one image of a 17 year-old Dickinson. Fry’s remarkable portrait of the poet as artist and woman allows us another view of the many facets of her mysterious inner-beauty, elegance and intellect.