The Belle of Amherst OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: Carol Rosegg
  • NY TIMES

  • DAILY NEWS

  • NY POST

  • HR

  • TM

Opening Night:
October 19, 2014
Closing:
November 23, 2014

Theater: Westside Theatre / 407 West 43rd Street, New York, NY, 10036

Synopsis: 

In The Belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson welcomes audiences into her lifelong Amherst homestead in mid-19th century Massachusetts. While Dickinson found solace in solitude through much of her life, acclaimed playwright William Luce weaves her poems, diaries, and letters into a one-woman portrait of one of America’s greatest and most prolific poets, mixing Dickinson’s encounters with close friends and family with the poet’s own, often amusing observations. “Full of passion and poetry and heart” (New York Daily News), The Belle of Amherst illuminates a brilliant wordsmith through the words she left behind.

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  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF The Belle of Amherst

    That Reclusive Poet Opens Her Parlor Door
    ‘The Belle of Amherst’: Joely Richardson as Dickinson

    Charles Isherwood

    October 19, 2014: Emily Dickinson, that famously welcoming New England hostess of the 19th century, has thrown open her parlor doors to all comers at the Westside Theater, where a new production of William Luce’s biographical play The Belle of Amherst, starring Joely Richardson and directed by Steve Cosson, opened on Sunday night. Please note the sarcasm in that sentence. Although the posthumous publication of her extraordinary poetry made Dickinson a celebrated literary figure, during her lifetime, she was known in her hometown primarily for a reclusiveness bordering on pathology. The notion that she would confide her life story and her most deeply felt poems — or even her recipes for cake and gingerbread — to a couple of hundred strangers a night renders Mr. Luce’s play almost nonsensical from the get-go. Well, never mind. Mr. Luce dispenses with the anomalous conceit by having Dickinson announce in the opening moments: “Forgive me if I’m frightened. I never see strangers.” In any case, Dickinson idolizers are presumably not the target audience for this fluidly written solo play, which served as a durable vehicle for Julie Harris when it was first produced on Broadway in 1976.

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  • NEW YORK DAILY NEWS REVIEW OF The Belle of Amherst

    Joely Richardson stars as poet Emily Dickinson in Off-Broadway revival of play by William Luce

    Joe Dziemianowicz

    October 19, 2014: On the series “Nip/Tuck,” Joely Richardson played a doctor’s wife who popped pills. Now, in William Luce's one-woman play The Belle of Amherst, she portrays Emily Dickinson and is hooked on language. Words, the poet says, can produce “phosphorescence.” So can theatrical performances. Julie Harris was described as luminous in her Tony Award-winning star turn in the play's 1976 Broadway run. Richardson proves capable -- no more, no less --  at conveying the joys and despair of this 19th century American original. Without a transporting performance, the play, based on Dickinson’s diaries, letters and work, emerges as methodical and choppy. That adds up to an Off-Broadway revival directed by Steve Cosson that doesn't produce much of a glow.

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  • NEW YORK POST REVIEW OF The Belle of Amherst

    Joely Richardson is surprisingly effective in ‘The Belle of Amherst’

    Elisabeth Vincentelli

    October 19, 2014: Chances are, the prospect of a two-hour-long, one-woman show about Emily Dickinson won’t send your pulse racing. Nor, for that matter, would seeing The Belle of Amherst performed by “Nip/Tuck” star Joely Richardson. And yet Richardson proves to be a deliciously spry tour guide through the poet’s life and letters. Whoever expected to use “fun” and “Emily Dickinson” in the same sentence? William Luce’s piece was a hit for Julie Harris — earning her a fifth Tony in 1977 — before going on to a healthy life in regional and stock theater. It’s easy to see why. Drawing from Dickinson’s verse, diaries and letters, The Belle of Amherst entertainingly debunks her image as a gloomy spinster.

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  • HOLLYWOOD REPORTER REVIEW OF The Belle of Amherst

    Joely Richardson stars as poet Emily Dickinson in this one-person play made famous by Julie Harris

    Frank Scheck

    October 19, 2014: "Words are my life," declares Emily Dickinson, portrayed by Joely Richardson in The Belle of Amherst. And indeed, words are what you get in this Off-Broadway revival of William Luce's 1976 one-woman play, immortalized by actress Julie Harris in a Tony Award-winning turn that she later reprised for a PBS television production. Conveying the essence of the reclusive poet's life via an interweaving of her poems, letters, diaries and pure imagination, it's an incisive portrait that provides a marvelous vehicle for talented actresses. Richardson is accustomed to having big shoes to fill thanks to her lineage: she's the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and director Tony Richardson; her grandparents are famed British thespians Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson; and her sister is the late Natasha Richardson. But her task here is particularly challenging, due to Harris' luminous performance, which is cherished by anyone who saw it and is still available for viewing in home-entertainment formats. While comparisons are inevitable, Richardson — best known to American audiences for such films and television shows as The Patriot, The Tudors and Nip/Tuck — delivers a thoroughly credible if not revelatory performance. Her ethereal beauty, here somewhat disguised with brown hair tied in the back, doesn't exactly recall the rather plain Dickinson revealed in vintage photographs. And it's disconcerting to have a British actress playing that most American of poets.

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  • THEATERMANIA REVIEW OF The Belle of Amherst

    Joely Richardson stars in the revival of this one-woman bio-play about poet Emily Dickinson

    Zachary Stewart

    October 19, 2014: If a lifetime of disappointment packed into a poetry-laden two hours is your idea of a great night at the theater, then the off-Broadway revival of William Luce's The Belle of Amherst at the Westside Theatre is the show for you. For everyone else, you might want to coffee up before attending a performance. The Belle of Amherst is a curious play to revive off-Broadway. Luce originally wrote this one-woman play about 19th-century American poet and recluse Emily Dickinson as a showcase for legendary stage actress Julie Harris. After a summer of Broadway performances in 1976, Harris claimed her fifth Tony Award for the production. Since then, it has been frequently presented at regional and subscription-based theaters owing to its relatively low production costs and recognizable subject matter: Following her death in 1886, Dickinson has gone on to become one of the most popular poets in American literature. Audiences wait with bated breath for their favorite Dickinson poems in the same way they anticipate "Hey Jude" in a Beatles tribute concert.

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