Stage Door: Emily, An Amethyst Remembrance

11/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Emily Dickinson is one of our most esteemed and mysterious poets. By age 30, she refused to leave her home; in fact, she usually spoke to people through a partially opened door. Sensitive and intelligent, Dickinson has long intrigued scholars, who have speculated on the myriad reasons for her isolation. Emily, An Amethyst Remembrance lets the poet speak for herself; this deeply moving production sites historic record, but captures the essence of the artist via her work.

Now at the Kirk Theater, Emily relies on an economy of prose and direction to introduce her. It's aided by a lyrical script, thanks to Chris Cragin, and a strong ensemble, particularly Elizabeth Davis, whose Emily will steal your heart.

The play begins in 1860 and moves back in time. Long called the "belle of Amherst," this quiet, soulful woman is entranced by literature and obsessed with writing. The caveat: she won't share it with the world. Dickinson's genius wasn't discovered until her death, when her younger sister Lavinia found 1,775 poems in her room. Unique for the era, they contain short lines, lack titles and use unconventional punctuation and capitalization. Lauded on publication, they were heavily edited to conform to the period. In 1955, an unaltered collection of her poetry appeared, and Dickinson was heralded both as a modernist and wholly original voice, one of the greatest American poets.

But who was Emily Dickinson? Considered a local eccentric who dressed only in white, here she's a woman who disdains conventions, yet embraces friendship. Emily is an intimate drama that considers 12 years of her life, from ages 17 to 29. Set in the family home, we meet her sister-in-law and mother (Jenny Ledel), her sister Vinnie (Misty Foster Venters), brother Austin and father (Jared Houseman), and two close friends, played by Christopher Bonewitz.

While much of the play hews to known details, the playwright says she chose to "capture the Emily I experience when I read her poetry." To that end, we witness poetry as biography, charting the trajectory of Dickinson's momentary joys, as well as an exploration of the themes that occupied much of her work: immortality and death.

Though she has devoted siblings, her parents are disturbing: a sickly, detached mother and a tyrannical father. Dickinson, however, remains separate and distinct. She rejects the women's sewing group, despite the family's social standing, and spurns her friend Williamson's efforts to get her published. Finally, she agrees -- on the promise it carries no byline. "I like a look of Agony," she once wrote, which speaks to her reclusive existence.

Like Keats, Dickinson saw writing poetry as an exalted calling and dedicated her life to it. Unlike him, she had only a handful of poems published in her lifetime -- and never credited to her. Per Emily, she is an intriguing, albeit troubled character, and this marvelously spare effort, thanks to a beautifully calibrated cast, makes audiences want to read her anew. Emily gives us a rare treat: It lets us peak behind the door.

Pre-Post Theater Restaurant: Cowgirl Hall of Fame
Theme restaurants can be kitschy or clever -- Cowgirl Hall of Fame -- in Greenwich Village pulls off both -- and throws in a yummy Tex-Mex cuisine to boot. The trappings are pure cowpoke -- from the antler chandeliers to the Western decors. Willie Nelson might not want your babies to grow up to be cowboys, but the grub they eat, at least by Manhattan standards, is mighty tasty. Start with drinks -- there are 31 different tequilas and nifty cocktails, such as The Bible Belt: Jack Daniels, Triple Sec, lemon and lime. Then rustle up either catfish po' boys or BBQ beef or chicken sandwiches. Or forget your calorie count and indulge in Chicken Fried Chicken, Chicken Fried Steak, Smoked Ribs or Catfish Filet. Top it off with key lime pie or a blueberry peach cobbler. If you're headed to a matinee, take in Cowgirl's brunch. The selection is terrific, including huevos rancheros, or Cowgirl crazy mix-up, scrambled eggs with pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, bacon, grilled Vidalia onions and avocado salsa. Unlike the blueberry or banana pancakes, egg dishes come with homemade biscuits and cheese grits. Cowgirl serves up hearty, feel-good fare and a friendly smile. It's a tough time world, drop in and set a spell.
Cowgirl Hall of Fame, 519 Hudson St., New York, NY