The ‘Belle’ tolls for thee

Clarke Reader
Posted 7/25/12

Familiar lore about Emily Dickinson portrays her life as one of darkness, gloom and isolation. That is not the story told in the “The Belle of …

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The ‘Belle’ tolls for thee


Familiar lore about Emily Dickinson portrays her life as one of darkness, gloom and isolation.

That is not the story told in the “The Belle of Amherst,” which is playing at the Miners Alley Playhouse, 1224 Washington Ave., Suite 200, through Aug. 26.

“She was anything but a sad person — she was really a warrior,” Rick Bernstein, the play’s director, said. “She was this great, courageous woman who stared life in the face and said, ‘I’m going to live you.’”

The play, written by William Luce, is a one-woman production that has Dickinson at the age of 53 talking about some of the key people and events in her life. Luce takes her character back in time as she reminisces about the past, and uses a minimalist set to suggest whatever kind of surroundings the story needs.

Bernstein said Miners Alley is very interested in telling the stories of artists who devoted their lives to their art, and the theater has done plays about other famous figures, including Pablo Picasso and Sigmund Freud.

Paige Larson took on the role of Dickinson and spent a lot of the time by herself with the script, trying to get into the mindset of the famous poet.

“The script takes a lot from her personal letters and writings, and she was so poetic and literate when she wasn’t writing poetry,” Larson said. “She also had a great sense of humor that comes across in her writing.”

Larson said that while there was a lot of sadness in Dickinson’s life, her decisions weren’t driven by that. Her life choices were made very specifically, and were not the result of her being neurotic, Larson said.

Larson and Bernstein have been married for 10 years and have worked together several times in the past. The understanding between them really shows in “Amherst.”

“Working with Paige is more like just guiding someone along a path , and she understands most of the places along the way,” Bernstein said. “I really applaud her process, and there are times when you just have the trust to give the latitude to the performer.”

According to Bernstein, one of the challenges of a story like this is finding how to bring the audience to a point where members connect with the character and what she is saying.

“This is a very quiet show, so how do you keep the audience on the edge of their seats? But that’s the magic,” he said. “The writing really sucks the audience into the weave of who she was.”

In the years since Dickinson’s death in 1886, she has been recognized as one of the best poets America has produced. It is the memory of all she accomplished despite the obstacles that “The Belle of Amherst” honors, Bernstein said.

“The saddest part is it was only after her death that she received the recognition she never had while living,” he said. “But I’m sure she’s floating around somewhere happy that she finally did.”

For more information about the play and to purchase tickets, go online to


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