“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.