By Jean Lowerison
Emily Dickinson and I have something in common. Alas, it is not a flair for poetry, but the fact that both of us spent our lives essentially alone. She claims it was on purpose; as do I, but though I decided early on that marriage was not for me, I can still identify with her excitement at the thought that she might have met the man of her life – or at least the publisher of her dreams.
Cynthia Gerber is brilliant as Dickinson in playwright William Luce’s solo biographical show “The Belle of Amherst,” on view through Nov. 14 at Coronado’s Lamb’s Players Theatre.
Set designer Mike Buckley sets the tone with a woodsy set that offers a beautifully restful maple tree on either side of the curtained stage, using the curtained area for projected photos.
Dickinson was born in 1830 and spent most of her life in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her father was an attorney who, it would seem, never even smiled, never mind encouraging his children in their endeavors. She flashes an unsmiling photo on the backdrop. “He looks like a bear,” she notes.
But that didn’t stop her. Neither did rejections from several submissions to “The Atlantic.” A prolific writer, by the time of her death only 10 of her nearly 1800 poems had been published and one letter. Nearly all the poems were heavily edited because she didn’t bother with the conventional rules of poetry of the time. She always wore white.
She didn’t bother with other conventions either, like religion. “Some keep the Sabbath going to church. I keep it, staying at home,” she wrote.
Emily was closest to her younger brother Austin, who as the only male child got most of their father’s attention.
Emily tells her side of the story, jumping around here and there as her spirit takes her.
To me, the saddest lines of all are these: “I’m nobody. Who are you?”
I am extremely happy to report that she is not “nobody” to anyone who reads English language poetry.
Gerber doesn’t just play Emily; she really inhabits the character, which allows the audience a seemingly much closer relationship to this singular talent (really, to both talents).
If you’d like to meet Emily Dickinson, get thee to Lamb’s Players Theatre.
I would suggest, however, that the theater insert a short intermission. It’s a long sit without one.
“The Belle of Amherst” plays through November 14, 2021 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado. Masks and proof of vaccination required.
For tickets: (619) 437-6000 or www.lambsplayers.org.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.