It's a delight to sing the tune without the words and celebrate National Poetry Month with Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), her life and poems which the Little Theatre of Alexandria does in its new production, The Belle of Amherst.
Karen Jadlos Shotts is an energetic Emily in this one-actor, two-act autobiographical sketch by William Luce, directed by Frank D. Shutts, II. who is the LTA president and director of more than 70 shows, 27 at LTA.
Before I even got to the theatre, I liked what I expected to hear and see, Emily Dickinson's poetry in person, on a stage by a character in dress!
Ms. Shotts is much more animated than I would have imagined the reclusive Ms. Dickinson to be. She enlivens the poet's life realistically with imaginary conversations with the scholar, "Mr. Higginson," with family members and with others.
I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—Life's little duties do—precisely—As the very least Were infinite—to me—
A silver tea set becomes useful when Emily has a cup or two with her imaginary guests in the family's Victorian house in Amherst, Massachusetts where Emily spent the majority of her adult life.
She speaks negatively of her nosy neighbors
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
To an admiring Bog!
I measure every Grief I meet With narrow, probing, eyes – I wonder if It weighs like Mine – Or has an Easier size. I wonder if They bore it long – Or did it just begin – I could not tell the Date of Mine – It feels so old a pain – I wonder if it hurts to live – And if They have to try – And whether – could They choose between – It would not be – to die –
The play follows Emily's life until death, always accompanied by her poetry and much-welcome splices of humor. Was she humorous?
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me —
The simple News that Nature told
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see —
For love of Her — Sweet — countrymen
Judge tenderly — of Me
Sound by Janice Rivera and Donna Hauprich is excellent, just the right amount and volume, as horses and carriages come and go outside Emily's windows, and music and church bells can be heard at other times.
In her room
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!
Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro' endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue –
I never saw a Moor —
I never saw the Sea —
Yet know I how the Heather looks
And what a Billow be.
I never spoke with God
Nor visited in Heaven —
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the Checks were given —
Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley have fashioned under Emily's apron a dull candlelight long dress which fits Ms. Shotts like a large potato sack from neck to floor. Arms covered, of course, and all in a shade of white which is what Emily Dickinson always wore: An angel of poetry?
My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me
So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.
Emily Dickinson fans will want to rush and get tickets to see and hear the poet speak her songs.
Several of the shows are sold out.
LTA is seating about 25 percent of its capacity, strictly following covid-guidelines for masks and social distancing,
Other Belle of Amherst production members include Russell M. Wyland, producer; Melanie "Mim" Blower and Marg Soroos, stage managers; Jeff Auerbach and Kimberly Crago, lighting; Helen Bard-Sobola and Bobbie Herbst, properties; Chanel Lancaster, make-up; Robin Maline, hair.What: The Belle of Amherst by William Luce
When: Now through May 15, 2021, Wednesday through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.
Where: Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.
Tickets: Start at $24. Several shows are sold out.
Duration: About 90 minutes with one 10-minute pause.
Public transportation: Check the Metro and Dash bus websites.
Parking: On the streets and in many garages nearby with free parking during performance times at the Capital One Bank at Wilkes and Washington streets.
For more information: Box Office: 703-683-0496; Business: 703-683-5778.