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Dwelling in Possibility

It’s a small world, Emily Dickinson’s — her father’s house in Amherst and the family’s garden. “I never had to go anywhere else to find my Paradise,” she tells us. After all, she lives with possibility, poetry, imagination, so we believe her. “Paradise is within,” Dickinson says. Still, she pains us. We are terribly afraid for her. Hope and disappointment are linked, always. Dickinson, dressed all in white, the bridal hue of her life, is played by Susan Fullerton in Taconic Stage Company’s production of “The Belle of Amherst,” William Luce’s one-woman play based on the poet’s work and letters. Before the gothic altar in St. John in the Wilderness, a 19th-century Episcopal church in Copake Falls, NY, is a prim white desk and chairs and the reedy thin Fullerton, who tells us of Dickinson’s delight in being Amherst’s star eccentric: shy, remote, sometimes puckish, flying upstairs, two steps at a time to escape curious visitors. It’s a game for her. She admits it freely to us, her audience. Of course in this severe household ruled by father, Emily is not the only oddball. Her sister Lavinia will not wear black stockings for fear they will poison her. This is a lengthy and keen rumination on art, isolation and courage. Emily, writing 1,775 poems in her 53 years, saw just 7, her love letters to the world, published. And though she anticipated the attentions of young suitors, not one seemly fellow turned up. Later in life she speaks of affairs with married men and we wonder if this is aimless hope, delusion, or, more sadly, so. And still she writes her tidy, startling, compressed poems. And we are thrilled. The language is exquisite, and the stories she gives us, telling. And tender. One of the happier stories is about the night her forbidding and puritanical father caught her writing poetry in the middle of the night. He had rules about going to bed and waking early. She read one poem to him. And then another. And another. Then he told her she could write in the night and sleep late. Till 8 a.m. Fullerton makes a fine Emily, ecstatic about life and nature and unable to let go of the possibilities. “The Belle of Amherst,” with Susan Fullerton as Emily Dickinson, and directed by Carl Ritchie, runs at St. John in the Wilderness Church in Copake Falls, NY, through Sept 4.For tickets and information, call 518-325-1234.

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