Mar 04-Mar 26, 2005
Part of three American History Month plays running in repertory from the No Strings Theatre Company. A visit with the shy poet in which she shares her poems and the important moments of her life.
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'Belle' features shy poet
- By Patricia L. Garcia, Las Cruces Sun News
From the moment Toni Marie steps on stage dressed as Emily Dickinson - from the dark brown hair to the dark brown eyes - one is transplanted into a whole new world.
It's as if Dickinson has come back to life for a day, just to give you a sneak peak into her mind, her poems and her world.
It's not hard to see why - even Marie became engulfed in her character, who she portrays as part of the Black Box Theatre's Biography Month.
"To play this character is larger than life," Marie said. "I feel like her up there. ... When I get up there, I try to interpret what she was meaning in her poems."
The play is a close look at the poet and how she dealt with being shy and being the talk of the town (though, not necessarily the good talk of the town) because of her quirky ways. Though most of the story is historically accurate, there are parts of the play that are writer William Luce's improvised portions of her life.
And because it is simply Dickinson who stars in the show, we get a different perspective on the often misunderstood writer. The play is funny, as the sharp-tongued Dickinson comments on the people that surround her; yet the play is at times quite sad as she talks about a romance that could never be.
The furniture used in the play is beautiful Victorian furniture that suits the play well, as is Dickinson's Victorian white dress. And, because the play is part of a rotating repertory ("Doc Holliday and The Angel of Mercy" and "Painting Madame X" are also playing at the theater), some pieces may be familiar to audiences. Stage manager Nancy Cahill, though, does a good job of changing up the stage to keep audiences who see the other plays from getting bored with it.
Director Ceil Herman the play works well because of its intimacy and how personal Marie makes it. Herman said the crew has even started referring to Marie as Emily.
"The play is special because the actor can become invested in the it," she said. "(Marie's) life was changed by becoming Emily. It's a different experience than if it were with a full cast."
Beside simply changing her demeanor, Marie does indeed become Dickinson - the naturally blue-eyed Marie wears brown contact lenses to match Dickinson's eyes and to match a line in the play. She even dyed her hair like Dickinson's (or what we can gather from the one existing photo of her, anyhow.)
Channeling Emily Dickenson
- by Maggie Adkins , NMSU Round Up
It is one thing for a historical character to come to life before your eyes, but when the words of a celebrated poet of immense talent also take on new meaning, it cannot be missed.
"The Belle of Amherst," a one-person biographical play about Emily Dickinson, directed by Ceil Herman, delivers that experience.
Toni Marie stars as the widely read but little understood poet. Marie completely immersed herself in the role, and it paid off.
She began memorizing her lines six months ago with assistant director Betty Peterson. Not only did she have to memorize about an hour and a half of lines, but she also had to cover up her strong New York accent with a subdued New England one.
Marie dyed her hair a rich brown and wears brown contacts, making her resemblance to the poet unmistakable.
As for the actual performance, it is astonishingly good. It is as if Dickinson has come to Las Cruces to deliver a powerful reading of many of her best-known poems.
The script, by William Luce, takes necessary fictitious liberties to make Dickinson more human. Necessary because not very much is known of the poet's life, and certain scenes, such as a particularly poignant one in which Dickinson discusses her father, make the play far richer than a simple recitation of poetry.
The play focuses on an afternoon late in Dickinson's life, as the poet reminisces about her childhood, her development as a poet and her relationships with her family, friends and the people of her town.
Her life seems very simple, focused on cake recipes and peeling apples. But between and within her humble stories is the poetry: Dickinson's gift to a world that didn't grant her fame in life but instead venerated her after death.
Marie delivers the poetry as if it is coming to her moment to moment with joyful, conversational ease. Sometimes an entire poem but often just a thoughtful couplet, the play is enriched by Dickinson's meditations on death, love and nature
"Because it is very hard to figure out what she really meant in her poetry, all I can do is deliver it with feeling," Marie said.
Marie said though most of Dickinson's poems are of a more serious nature, she attempted to find the bliss within them. "When there is happiness in it, I try to bring it out," she said.
Marie said she found that she had much in common with the poet, whom before October she had only read years before as a student.
"Emily [wrote] for the love of nature and life," Marie said. "My job is to share her ecstasy for life."
Marie said she finds her fulfillment through performing. "Ecstasy for me is bringing this character to an audience," she said.
"The Belle of Amherst" is performed in repertory with "Doc Holliday and the Angel of Mercy" and "Painting Madame X" as part of No Strings Theater Company's Biography Month.
THE GREEN ROOM: THEATER REVIEW
A poet and a gunslinger
No Strings Theatre Company continues Biography Month with 'Belle' and 'Doc'
- By Mary Gennrich and Jeff Barnet, The Las Cruces Bulletin
No String Theatre Company's Biography Month' continues through March with "The Belle of Amherst, "Doc Holliday and the Angel of Mercy" and Bob Diven's "Painting Madame X." Each of the productions focuses on an individual from the past and presents their history in a one-man show.
In "The Belle of Amherst," written hy William Luce, Emily Dickinson, famous American poet, comes to life not as the melancholy hermit she's described as in English textbooks, hut rather, as an energetic and brilliant individual who simply chose a different way of living.
Dickinson spent most of her life tucked away inside the home of her family and only sought out publication of her poems once in the form of correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson at the Atlantic Monthly. After the dream did not reach fruition, the poet kept her writings to herself and they were not discovered until after her death.
Emily Dickinson, portrayed by Toni Marie, begins the production inviting the audience to sample a cake she's baked and to take tea in the living area of the Dickinson household. Once the confidence of the audience is gained, she proceeds to tell her story 1)y mapping out the events of' her life from the year 1845, when she was a teenager, to the year 1886. With the precision of a surgeon, author Luce cuts Dickinson's poetry into the poet's reminiscings, so well, that sometimes it's hard to tell where the poetry that is Emily begins and where it ends. If one is not well versed in Dickinson's poetry, this may be confusing. But for those who are in the know, the utilization of the poet's writings is a delightful gift of prose.
This widely unknown version of Dickinson, brought about by two years of research on the part of the author, presents the poet as a grinning, shy girl who becomes a great student of society. She ascertains, from observing people out of a window of her home, perhaps more about the underpinnings of human nature than most do in a lifetime of' living outside the doors of' their homes.
Besides presenting the life of a historical figure, the play does well to illustrate the dress, mannerisms and technology of the Victorian era.
Marie, a three-year resident of Las Cruces and a 10-year veteran with the Aloha Performing Arts Center, delivers the part of Dickinson with passion, grace and delightful exuberance. Her moving and bold performance at times brings out gasps of surprise, deep belly laughs and sighs of mournful understanding from the audience.
Director Ceil Herman did a fabulous job coaching the actress in the demanding role of such a complex character and should be applauded as well.
No seating plan has been posted.