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'The Belle of Amherst' Offers Memorable Portrait of Emily Dickinson

by Joe Siegel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 30, 2021
Steph Rodger as Emily Dickinson
Steph Rodger as Emily Dickinson  (Source:Granite Theatre Company)

Poet Emily Dickinson may not have lived a charmed life, but she is still remembered for her magnificent writing.

"The Belle of Amherst" is playwright William Luce's affectionate tribute to Dickinson, who relives distant memories through her poetry. The play debuted in 1976 on Broadway and won a Tony Award for Julie Harris.

The Granite Theatre Company's production was streamed from April 24 — 26.

Under the sharp direction of actress Paula Glen, Steph Rodger ("The Revolutionists") has never been better as a woman who was quiet on the outside but had a lot to express internally.

Dickinson, dressed in white, appears in an office filled with family photographs and antique furniture. The atmospheric lighting design is by Dean Palmer, Jr.

We learn about Emily's triumphs and tragedies through the years, as well as her affection for writing. She grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts and had an ordinary childhood. Emily's adolescence was a series of dances and parties when she was "infatuated with one dashing young man after another."

Under the sharp direction of actress Paula Glen, Steph Rodger ("The Revolutionists") has never been better as a woman who was quiet on the outside but had a lot to express internally.

"I find ecstasy in living," Emily says at one point.

According to Wikipedia: "Although Dickinson's acquaintances were most likely aware of her writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Dickinson's younger sister, discovered her cache of poems—that her work became public. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, though both heavily edited the content."

Rodger is alone on stage for the play's 66-minute run time and expertly captures Dickinson's self-doubt and vulnerabilities. It's a mesmerizing portrayal.

Emily suffers a series of losses and manages to rise above the sadness. Her prose exemplified the joy of life and has been immortalized for future generations to savor.

"The Belle of Amherst" is a testament to art, creation, and the simplicity of life in New England.

For more information about Granite Theatre, visit their website at granitetheatre.com.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.


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