The Belle of Amherst | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Belle of Amherst

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THE BELLE OF AMHERST, Pyewacket, at Sarantos Studios. "Words are my life," Emily Dickinson tells us--and they're quite enough to bring her back to life in this sturdy solo show. Playwright William Luce (who later wrote Barrymore for Christopher Plummer) gives the reclusive poet the same intimacy she gave her verse. Seldom leaving her father's Amherst home and yard during her 56 years (she couldn't tell time until she was 15), Dickinson nonetheless found a fuller life than most in expectation, imagination, and reflection. Her seemingly evanescent poems, some of them written on the backs of envelopes (which she called "undelivered letters lost in transit"), have proved more enduring and contemporary than the sentimental jingles popular in her day.

Directed by Kerstin Broockman, Kate Harris (no relation to Julie Harris, who patented the part) does poetic justice to Luce's delightful portrait. Whether chattering with her sister, proudly presenting her recipe for black cake, or displaying family photographs, Harris's Emily is wonderfully at home, brisk, serene, and eager to share her love of words that you can "tip your hat to" and poems that "take the top off your head." But though Luce's special skill is to show how naturally the poems flow from Emily's anecdotes and memories, Harris breezes through the poetry as easily as she professes dislike for cats. The poet should be prouder, pausing as she presents her legacy. --Lawrence Bommer

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