Thursday, April 29, 2021

'Emily Dickinson' stars in Alexandria

Karen Jadloss Shotts is Emily Dickinson in Little Theatre of Alexandria's The Belle of Amherst/Photo by Matthew Liptak

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!

I was not disappointed.

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.

Karen Jadloss Shotts is Emily Dickinson in Little Theatre of Alexandria's The Belle of Amherst/Photo by Matthew Liptak

She glides across the stage almost non-stop from one side to the other, flowing like her words, and stopping sometimes to extend her hands and stretch her arms high overhead like a cat yawning. She removes her long white apron and then puts it on again, all the while delivering Emily Dickinson's best-known works and describing her life.

I tie my Hat—
I crease my Shawl— 
Life's little duties do—
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?

Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog! 

and speaks glowingly of her father, and only after his death does her ill mother make an "appearance."

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?

I could not conceive that LTA's Emily would stay cooped up in a house for years as Emily Dickinson chose to live. But, the director begs the actor's animation and energy to keep the production moving, necessary to sustain attention in today's world, much better than watching the poet sit at a desk and mouth the words.

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 

Myke Taister has created a nicely filled, almost overcrowded set of Emily's bedroom and. a few steps below, the family parlor with lots to see and distract from poetry: framed photographs, paintings, lamps, windows on either side of the stage and curtains rustling with the wind.

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 

I taste a liquor never brewed –
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 –

And she

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?

In program notes Director Shutts hopes that LTA's illumination of Ms. Dickinson will provide guests with "a greater appreciation" of the poet and "how her phosphorescence now shines brighter than her contemporaries!"

It does!
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.

Because I could not stop for Death – 
He kindly stopped for me – 
The Carriage held but just Ourselves – 
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility – 

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring – 
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – 
We passed the Setting Sun – 

Or rather – He passed us – 
The Dews drew quivering and chill – 
For only Gossamer, my Gown – 
My Tippet – only Tulle – 

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground – 
The Roof was scarcely visible – 
The Cornice – in the Ground – 

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity – 

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.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

'Mole Agent' is dull...dull...s n o r e ....

Moviegoers, Mole Agent ranks near the bottom of my "Worst Movies I Have Ever Seen" list along with the dreadful Nomadland and the famed cat movie

I should have known from the title.

Save your time!  And your money!  

The only action here are the fluttering clothes on the line and the flowers waving in the breeze.

An old man becomes a resident at a nursing home, ostensibly as an undercover agent to find out whether the nursing home is as bad as some suspect.

Compared to the nursing homes I have visited, this place is the Taj Mahal (and not as lively as the marble and stones you find there). 

This is the inside of a grave.  

Let's go!

This is billed as a "drama/documentary," but I call it a drama for those who need a doc. 

Yes, yes, yes!  Actual residents are many of the "actors."  Does that make it any better?


Why did I go see it?  Good question.

#1. I was starved for a movie, any movie (and any movie is what I got).

#2. The audience rating at Rotten Tomatoes was an 84 (compared to the critics' 95) which was a big hint about the "action" to come because if you think about it (after I had seen it) the only members of the audience who'd pay to see this thing and rate it are those not interested in action!  

Get it?  Now, I do!  

And the critics!  The critics!  Why they'd give Nomadland a 94!  

I tell you:  A sleeping mole in a hole has more action than this. 

Ho hum, I suppose this has a market in the 15,600 nursing homes found in the U.S., and, as for the rest of the world, don't they care for their elderly besides stashing them in these horrible places?  


Dear Carla, this is not a movie for Thor.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Salem's witches, worth a trip

The Salem Witch Trials 1692  was on exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts which featured era pieces, belongings of the participants, and paintings, several shown below. Another witch exhibition is set at the Peabody this fall, Sept. 18, 2021 through March 20, 2022/Photo by Patricia Leslie 

The entrance to the Peabody Essex Museum where popular witch exhibitions enlighten museum goers/Photo by Patricia Leslie
What has captured the attention of these children at the Peabody Essex Museum?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
It was the Examination of a Witch, 1853 by Tompkins Harrison Matteson (1813-1883), Peabody Essex Museum/Photo by Mark Sexton and Jeffrey R. Dykes
Detail of Examination of a Witch, 1853 by Tompkins Harrison Matteson, Peabody Essex Museum, which the artist depicted 160 years after the event. Note the animal-like claws of the hands of the woman in red kneeling on the right as she examines a victim whose skin eruptions gave the witch police proof the undressed woman was evil. The woman in center with the red kerchief has the look of a witch herself as she points to imperfect skin on the back of the young woman. Behind her, a helmeted soldier holds a spear used to hold back curious crowds. At the Peabody exhibition, a similar spear hung on the wall and may be seen above in the photo of the children on the floor. Mr. Matteson based his painting on an event in Boston which occurred in a public tavern, a common location for these testimonies.

William Drage (c. 1637-1669), Daimonomageia: A Small Treatise of Sicknesses and Diseases from Witchcraft, and Supernatural Causes, 1665, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Mr. Drage was an English physician and apothecary whose thinking about witches came to America with settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Cures for witchcraft included hanging rosemary, ivy, and mistletoe inside the house. You can forget about kissing under the mistletoe, unless ..../Photo by Patricia Leslie

This book, Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft, 1677, was written by John Webster (1611-1682), a witchcraft skeptic who nevertheless believed some could practice the craft naturally using the sciences of astronomy, botany or alchemy. (The spotlight in the left corner is from overhead lights.) From the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie

These are the walking sticks belonging to George Jacobs Sr., an elderly man put to death by testimony from his granddaughter, Margaret, who recanted...too late.  They were a gift in 1918 to the Peabody Essex Museum from Allen Jacobs, presumably related to Mr. Jacobs. In the background is a rendition of Mr. Jacobs's trial by Tompkins Harrison Matteson.  (Please see below.)/ Photo by Patricia Leslie

The granddaughter of George Jacobs, Sr. sentences her grandfather to death in Tompkins Harrison Matteson's Trial of George Jacobs, Sr. for Witchcraft, 1855, which the artist painted 163 years after Mr. Jacobs's trial and execution.  Although Margaret recanted her testimony, she was too late, and her grandfather, shown in the lower right with his hands extended, begging for mercy, was led to the gallows. The woman with her outstretched arms to the right of Margaret may be her mother, Rebecca, also accused of witchcraft. Peabody Essex Museum, Gift of R. W. Ropes, 1859/Photo by Mark Sexton and Jeffrey R. Dykes
Detail from Tompkins Harrison Matteson, Trial of George Jacobs, Sr. for Witchcraft, 1855, Peabody Essex Museum, Gift of R. W. Ropes, 1859.

On the wall at the Peabody is a quote from Thomas Maule's 1695 Truth Held Forth And Maintained/Photo by Patricia Leslie

It was not until 2016 that Proctor's Ledge was confirmed by researchers from the University of Virginia to be the site of the hangings of 19 "witches.' Scientists were led to the place by the findings of Salem resident Sidney Perley who, in 1921, questioned the long-identified summit of Gallows Hill on the outskirts of Salem as the hanging place. Mr. Perley said his research pointed to what is called, for unknown reasons, Proctor's Ledge which is at the base of the hill. He was proven right.

A dedication of the memorial was held July 19, 2017, the 325th anniversary of the hangings of Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wildes.  Millions of Americans are related to the "witches" hung at Salem, including my own children, related by their father to Rebecca Nurse.

The 19 victims' names are carved in stone in a semi-circle around a "single oak tree, as a symbol of endurance and dignity," according to the city's website. The crooked sign in the upper left is a reminder to wear masks during covid times/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Proctor's Ledge, the memorial to the witch victims in Salem, MA/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Proctor's Ledge, the memorial to the witch victims in Salem, MA, where from the left, victims' names are Bridget Bishop, hung on June 10, 1692, and Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, and Rebecca Nurse, the latter four hung on July 19, 1692. Outside the picture is the name of Sarah Wildes, also hung on July 19, 1692/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Proctor's Ledge stones are dedicated, from the left, to the memories of George Jacobs, Sr., whose granddaughter, Margaret betrayed him, John Proctor, Sr., and John Willard, all of whom were hung on August 19, 1692/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Proctor's Ledge, the memorial to the witch victims in Salem, MA/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Proctor's Ledge, the memorial to the witch victims in Salem, MA/Photo by Patricia Leslie

A day ends in Salem, Massachusetts which my sister says is a haunted and crowded place at Halloween/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Just when you think you've heard it all,
a Michigan politician calls female competitors in his state, "witches" to be burned at the stake.  

Like me, he must have been the only person older than 50 years who lives east of the Mississippi River who has not visited Salem, Massachusetts, the location of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and 1693 where 25 persons were killed or died as the result of mass hysteria. 

Nineteen of the witch victims were hung; one man, Giles Corey, was literally "pressed" to death with heavy weights as punishment for his "craft"; five victims died in jail.

One was an infant, Mercy Good, who never knew life outside the prison where she was born and where she died before her mother, Sarah Good, was hanged.

Mercy had a sister, Dorothy, who was also confined to the jail with inadequate circulation, a dirt floor, and crude sanitary facilities. Dorothy was incarcerated for more than eight months, chained to prison walls and although she wasn't put to death like her mother, family members said she suffered from the effects of her imprisonment for the rest of her life. 

Dorothy was five years old when she was jailed.

The witchcraft scare in Salem began with the telling of tall tales by a slave, Tituba, to young girls, confined to their home prisons during the harsh winter and having nothing better to do than to listen and spin yarns of their own.

As a child of about nine years old, I recall stumbling across this sad chapter in American history in an encyclopedia which I never forgot. I can still recall the illustrations and as an adult, the absurdity of it all and man's inhumanity to man, much like Ron Weiser.

Thanks to an excellent display at the Peabody Essex Museum right in the heart of Salem, visitors can become better educated about the hysteria, rumors, and seizures which can overtake crowd behavior and expand. The Peabody is hosting two exhibitions about the witches this year, with remnants and artifacts from the trials and the people involved.  

I was at Salem about the time Ron Weiser was spewing his female hatred like a snake. For him, I highly recommend a visit to Salem and to the Peabody Essex Museum to see this fall's shows which may cause Mr. Weiser to shed his snake skin and rethink his poison and what it can become. 

May I be so bold to suggest "GoFund Me" for his visit with excess funds to be donated to female candidates? 

The Peabody Essex Museum was founded in 1799, only 37 years after the trials, and prides itself as the country’s oldest continuously operating museum.

On a different note, at Turner's Seafood Restaurant, my pal, Maureen, and I had an excellent dinner outdoors in 37 degrees, but the wind was calm, we were dressed warmly (made comfortable by the restaurant's nearby standing heaters), and the warm chocolate lava cake provided its own pleasures.  

Salem is about 30 minutes north of Boston's Logan Airport.

What: The Salem Witch Trials, Sept. 18, 2021 through March 20, 2022.

When:  Open Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Where:  Peabody Essex Museum, East India Square, 161 Essex Street, Salem, MA 01970


Adults, $20; seniors (65 and older), $18; students (with i.d.), $12, youth 16 and under, Salem residents, and members, no charge. 

For more information:  978-745-9500, 866-745-1876 and visit


Press \\ Press Releases

PEM announces fall exhibition schedule


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

'Courier' is worth admission price


Yay!  The movies are back!

It's not the greatest spy movie I've ever seen but it will do in these days of entertainment starvation.  Especially after wasting time and money on the austere, the horrible, the boring Nomadland.

At the same movie house on a Saturday night at the same show time, the audience had swelled to about 25 from the poor audience showing for Nomadland.  

Carla, I think Thor will like The Courier. It's based on a true-life tale of a British spy ring working to obtain Soviet Union  nuclear secrets which preceded the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Merab Ninidze, left, is Soviet spy, Oleg Penkovsky, who transmits secrets to The Courier, Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch, right).

Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) are wooden and robotic government agents who recruit the where-am-I? salesman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) to transmit secrets from the Soviet Union. 

Starting the action is information supplied by Soviet double-agent, Oleg Penkovsky, portrayed by Merab Ninidze who steals the show. Besides Mr. Cumberbatch, he's the only one who legitimately conveys his character with aplomb, however, Vladimir Olegovich Chuprikov does a good job as Nikita Krushchev.  The rest of the cast is generally lifeless.

In another time and place, The Courier likely would not gain as many nods as it is receiving now, but this is now, and not then or when.