THE BELLE OF AMHERST, Laboratory Theatre, at the Chopin Theatre. “Paradise is never a journey,” declared Emily Dickinson. And according to William Luce’s celebrated one-woman portrait of the poet, Dickinson found paradise in a lifelong retreat from people. (Too shy to admit she didn’t know how to tell time, she learned only when she was 15.) She saw just seven poems published in her lifetime and feared her verse would never travel through space, let alone time. But her isolation allowed her to re-create a different and in some ways truer world. Luce shows us a poet caught in the art, ignoring the “facts” for the “phosphorescence.” He also reveals her poring over grisly newspaper stories, tending her garden, making small and large talk with her father, brother, sister, tutor–and with the Atlantic Monthly editor who was her one gentleman caller.
Michele Good bears a slight resemblance to Dickinson and a great one to Julie Harris, who pioneered the part. Good’s literary legend is likable and unpretentious, in intense contact with everything around her and no one in particular. Good’s one excess is to overplay Dickinson’s reticence in the first act and her elegiac farewell to life in the second. And she fails to project sufficiently given the theater’s poor acoustics. Though the script has been cut, Kristofer Simmons’s staging well conveys the hothouse in which this poet, both a hardy perennial and an exotic annual, flourished.