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The Belle of Amherst

Apr 04, 2012 01:14PM ● By Anonymous
In the late 1980s, Luby acted in a play directed by Jerry Whiddon, long time Artistic Director for The Round House Theatre, both in Silver Spring and Bethesda, Maryland. Ever since, Luby has had a desire to work with him again. Last summer, Luby approached Whiddon in an attempt to unearth any interest he might have in directing at Bay Theatre. To Luby’s delight, he was inclined to say yes having heard wonderful things about Bay Theatre but under one condition—that he direct a play he is passionate about.

Luby says how important it is to her “for a director to love the play he or she is directing.” After some time passed, Whiddon suggested The Belle of Amherst by William Luce and to play as his Emily Dickinson, he proposed Kathryn Kelley, talented Washingtonian actress who once was a company member of Roundhouse Theatre. Luby was thrilled. The play and actress selections are, in Luby’s opinion, perfect fits for Bay Theatre and since “we have never produced a historic/biographical piece before […and] Annapolis is such a historical town, I think it will be much appreciated especially [considering] that it’s about such a famous poet,” says Luby.

Opening night is Friday, March 30th and the play will run through May 6th. On the Bay Theatre’s website, the description of The Belle of Amherst begins with “Poetess Emily Dickinson was pert and unpredictable and William Luce’s biographical drama engages us as it allows Dickinson to reveal herself as a strong individualist [… and who] tells her tutor, ‘We shall read everything, naughty words and all.” However, Luby contends that this play cannot be categorized as simply biographical; that would be missing the point entirely. Luby explains that “We enter the heart and head of Emily Dickinson,” which allows the audience to reach a deeper level than a historian could possibly achieve. Luby believes that once audience members “feel” Emily [this] will inspire people to want to know more about her […and her] beautiful mind.”

While biographers who have studied the intelligent and often perplexing Emily Dickinson argue that she likely never meant to have her writings published, the fact that playwright William Luce transformed many of her letters and poems into a production, suggests that she was already providing theater-worthy entertainment for friends and neighbors. It’s been said that her vast amount of poetic correspondence was shared amongst recipients in order to compare notes and see who possessed the strangest letter of all. The Belle of Amherst was scripted in accordance with Dickinson’s oddities and is reflected in the lack of a traditional timeline; Emily Dickinson tended to account her experiences and observations out of order; therefore, the play follows a similar suit, as the play focuses more on thematic ties than chronological ones.

Dickinson had a special fault since she could not tell time until she was older than most and this allowed her to concentrate on words and people rather than on a ticking clock. To her, words gave way to poems and thus were sacred. People were equally sacred as she considered them poems as well. Dickinson’s intense focus on the nature of language and how we use it produced thought-provoking conversations and correspondence, which William Luce has artfully compiled into his one-woman drama. Originally directed by Charles Nelson Reilly starring Julie Harris, the play went on to run for 116 performances during which Harris won the 1977 Tony Award for Actress in a Drama after countless stunning portrayals of 15 different characters during the course of the play.

For ticket information, call 410-268-1333 or visit