Raves for "The Belle of Amherst" with Monique Fowler as Emily Dickinson!
‘The Belle of Amherst’ beautifully brings Dickinson to life in Brooksville barn
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff • September 21, 2017 6:28 am
Monique Fowler portrays Emily Dickinson in the one-woman show, "The Belle of Amherst" at Bagaduce Theatre. The play is performed in a converted barn on the Fowler Farm, which overlooks the Bagaduce River.
“Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.”
Emily Dickinson knew a lot about not succeeding. She wrote nearly 1,800 poems on scraps of paper but just seven were published in her lifetime.
A recluse, Dickinson spent all of her 55 years living is her father’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, rarely venturing further than the garden. Yet, along with Walt Whitman, she is considered to be the finest American poet of the 19th century.
This fall, Dickinson is vibrantly brought to life by actress Monique Fowler at Bagaduce Theatre in Brooksville in “The Belle of Amherst.” The one-woman show was written by William Luce and first performed in 1976 by Julie Harris, who earned a Tony Award for the role.
Fowler is a founder of the theater company that performs in a converted barn on her family’s property, located at the end of Mills Point Road. The view from outside the barn Sunday before and after the matinee was breathtakingly beautiful.
The performance inside is equally magical. Fowler brings Dickinson to life. The actress shows the poet’s playful spirit, her vulnerabilities and the deep disappointments she endured in trying to publish her poems.
Fowler uses Dickinson’s poems, liberally sprinkled throughout the two-act play, as a window into the woman’s soul and as a mirror that reflects the world in which she lived. Fowler’s tour-de-force performance is a wonder to behold.
The intimate setting — the theater has 60 seats — and the period antiques, including old paintings and photographs, make the audience feel as if it is eavesdropping on one afternoon in Dickinson’s life. Luce weaves together poems, letters, biography and theatrical conjecture into a tapestry that allows actresses of Fowler’s and Harris’ caliber to inhabit a three-dimensional woman.
Fowler, who is based in New York City, and John Vivian, the general manager, founded the theater last year. “The Belle of Amherst” is the second full production this summer. This season opened in July with Anton Checkov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” Next season’s shows have not yet been announced, but Vivian said the theater will operate in 2018.
The Fowler Farm is a 150-acre coastal property on the Bagaduce River, according to information on the theater’s website. It was first owned by Andrew Webber. Rear Admiral J.W. Fowler, actress Fowler’s grandfather, purchased what was known as the Mills Point Farm in 1972 from Ms. Ada Mills Tapley, who was 92.
Admiral Fowler’s son, Dr. William Fowler, designated the land forever wild when he placed it with the Castine Conservation Trust. It is now listed with the Maine Heritage Trust.
“The Bagaduce Theatre is dedicated to the Fowler family legacy,” a statement on the website says. “The public is encouraged to walk, birdwatch and generally enjoy the serenity of the property.”
Do that before or after the show, because both are stunningly beautiful.
“The Belle of Amherst” runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 1 at the Bagaduce Theatre at Fowler Farm, 176 Mills Point Road, Brooksville. For ticket information, call 801-1536 or visit bagaducetheatre.com.
By Ellen Booraem
BROOKSVILLE — “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” one of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems begins. Playwright William Luce took her at her word, and since 1976 his one-woman portrait of the Amherst, Mass., recluse has shone with truth if not precise accuracy.
Julie Harris famously pioneered the role, with the advantage of actually looking like the historical Emily. Bagaduce Theatre’s Monique Fowler does not have that advantage but it doesn’t matter a hill of beans — she’s perfect for the role, her mobile face radiating joy one minute, collapsing in sorrow the next. Dickinson’s wicked humor makes her eyes dance.
“The Belle of Amherst” is the final production of the season for the Brooksville summer theater company, which has transformed a family barn into a highly competent theater for two seasons now. “Belle” continues this weekend and next, at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.
Playwright Luce made the decision early on that other actors had no place in a play about a recluse poet.
“I decided that Emily alone should tell her story,” he writes in an author’s note, “sharing with the audience the inner drama of the poet’s consciousness in an intimate, one-to-one relationship.”
Even if one-person shows fill you with dread, you should take a chance on this one. Luce and Fowler’s Dickinson contains multitudes. The author of “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” also is capable of describing a formidable aunt as “the only male relative on the female side.”
Set in 1883, three years before Dickinson’s death at 56, the poet’s monologue moves back and forward in time, sliding effortlessly from her recipe for black cake (2 pounds each of flour and sugar, 19 eggs, spices you grind yourself) to her adolescent attempts at flirtation (not as successful as the cake) and resistance to religious fervor. She admits to being obsessed with publication, at which she also did not succeed while alive.
In some of the more delightful moments, Emily holds forth on “words to which I lift my hat when I see them sitting on a page,” griping that a fellow writer gives us “the facts but not the phosphorescence.” She admits that her white-clad eccentric recluse schtick is a bit of a joke on the neighbors. Attaching an inscrutable note to a gift of baked goods (“No bird resumes its egg”), she exults, “That’ll keep them guessing.”
Luce made the artistic decision to give his Emily slightly more of a love life than the historians do, positively identifying the mysterious “master” to whom she addressed several love letters (possibly unmailed) and giving her a couple of brushes with matrimony that haven’t entirely been confirmed. Dickinson, we suspect, would’ve loved this.
The play has tragic moments, mostly the deaths of friends and family, but also diminishing hopes, whether of love or of publication and acknowledgement. Mercurial, resilient Emily gives in for a minute or two, immobile on the sofa, then resolutely finds her feet and a nature poem.
Fowler, a veteran of Broadway and beyond, handles it all comfortably, so natural on stage that this becomes as much a visit as a theatrical production. She uses all her tools, lightening her voice to give us Emily’s childlike quality, changing tone beautifully when Emily, without warning, slides from speech to poetry and back again. We’re made to feel that delivering two hours of monologue is (sorry) a piece of cake.
“The Belle of Amherst” is at Bagaduce Theatre (the Fowler Farm, 176 Mills Point Road, Brooksville) through Oct. 1, 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Open seating tickets are $20. To reserve seats, call 801-1536 or visit www. bagaducetheatre.com.
c/o The Fowler Farm
176 Mills Point Rd
Brooksville, ME 04617