Sunday, October 19, 2014

Belle of Amherst @ The Westside Theater (Upstairs)

If you have ever wanted to have an intimate conversation with Emily Dickinson, you now have the chance in The Belle of Amherst.
In The Belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson welcomes audiences into her lifelong Amherst homestead in mid-19th century Massachusetts. While Dickinson found solace in solitude through much of her life, acclaimed playwright William Luce weaves her poems, diaries, and letters into a one-woman portrait of one of America’s greatest and most prolific poets, mixing Dickinson’s encounters with close friends and family with the poet’s own, often amusing observations.
Playwright William Luce completely embraces and compliments the language and poetry of Emily Dickinson with The Belle of Amherst. Through his writing, Luce is able to take the audience on an interesting, heartfelt and quirky journey through Dickinson’s life. The play begins with Emily (Joely Richardson) welcoming us (the audience) into her home as if we are established friends. The conversation is casual and also intimate, though Richardson is the only person speaking in this one woman performance. Luce also incorporates multiple memories of Dickinson that are acted out through a solitary “dialogue”. He should be applauded not just for his witty use of Dickinson-like speech and the thought provoking depth he gives to Emily, but also for the excellent ways he weaves in the works of Dickinson.
Joely Richardson as Emily Dickinson is a delight to watch on stage. She has the perfect blend of grace and humility that captivates the audience. Performing for 100 minutes alone on stage is no easy feat, but Richardson is more than up to the challenge. Even though it seems she may have had a bit of a cold, Richardson still harnesses and evokes the passion that Emily had for the written word. Director Steve Cosson gave Richardson a lot of room to unfold her character. Though it was just her on stage, the set never felt empty or overbearing. Cosson and Richardson together explored every corner of Emily’s space and brought it into motion.
The beautiful scenic design by Antje Ellerman is simplistically detailed. For example, the wall paper which contains birds (one of Emily’s favorite creatures) is a subtle and appropriate nod to the heroine.  The lighting design by David Weiner flatters Ellerman’s scenic design wonderfully and also offers a surprise for the audience. Richardson’s costume by William Ivey Long is tasteful and elegant. Long’s ivory palette also enhances Weiner’s lighting design. All these elements with Luce’s book, Dickinson’s poetry, Richardson’s fire and Cosson’s vision meld together and present a lovely night with Emily.  
If you are longing for romanticized and eloquent language delivered to you through the stage, be sure to see The Belle of Amherst. After all- “the heart wants what it wants” ~ Emily Dickinson

Review By: Staci Morin

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