Her outer world included a stunningly repressive
Victorian society as well as an emotionally and sexually
abusive Father and enabling mother.
Her inner world, replete with "mental breakdowns" was
an ongoing struggle to integrate her stunning creative
intellect, surfacing homosexual feelings and raging
emotions longing to free themselves.
The production is a captivating, magical journey
presented thru the one-night dream of a playwright
struggling to write a play worthy of her genius, her poetry
and her life story.
Emily Dickinson, the poet
Austin Dickinson, her brother
Edward Dickinson, her father
Emily Norcross (Emma) Dickinson, her mother
Judge Lord, her lover
Lavinia (Vinnie) Dickinson, her sister
Sue (Susie) Dickinson, her sister-in-law and Austin’s wife
The Playwright, the playwright of this play
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a middle-aged preacher
The play is written to optionally be performed by four
actors as follows:
All other male parts
All other female parts
The play takes place during
one night in Emily Dickinson’
s bedroom in her father’s
mansion. For Emily the time
is the late 1800’s, while for
The Playwright the setting is
the same but the time is the
early 21st century.
About the Poet:
Emily lived as a recluse, writing her
poetry in obscurity on scraps of paper
that she tied together into bundles. The
poems were discovered published after
her death. While thousands of her
letters are available, letters from a
critical part of her life and key portions
of other letters were destroyed to
protect the reputation of her and her
family. Her life, like her poetry, remain
Dickinson won the Seahorse award at
the Moondance International Film
Festival for Best Stageplay.
440 Studios in NYC, six
performances as part of the
Planet Connections festival.
One month run in San Diego
at the North Park Vaudeville
Theatre. Dickinson will run
for three weeks at The Grand
Theatre in NYC this June.
reviewed by Montserrat Mendez, nytheatre.com
The conceit of Dickinson is that a playwright is writing a piece about the ever mysterious Emily Dickinson, and
as it is in pieces such as this one, the poetess comes to life in his dreams. She is not, however, as the
playwright first imagines; within seconds of meeting her he says, "I didn't know you were such a bitch," and for a
few pages it seems like a clash of the egos is about to begin, between one very dead idealized poet and one
very much alive playwright dealing with mounting pages of failure. These first few minutes are exhilarating; the
possibilities of the play are wide open. It clips along with banter between playwright and muse as they clash, flirt,
and push each other's buttons. Slowly however, the playwright's role becomes much less, and Emily's role
becomes much more....
While the playwright devolves into merely a conduit to guide us through Emily's life, Emily becomes a full force
of nature, and boy oh boy does Rhianna Basore bite into the role with the zest of a veteran actor. She is—and I
say this without over-hyping my praise—simply magnificent. Her Emily goes from demure to naughty, from
athletic to weak, from a pillar of strength to utterly damaged child often within the same beat, and seeing this
young actor take the reigns of the play so daringly was inspirational.
Assisting our heroine in the journey is an able cast (Diana Sparta has an especially wonderful range) and the
director Al Germani, who creates a full, specific world out of nearly nothing. Every movement is carefully thought
out to tell the story; it is some of the best staging I've seen in a long time. The movement is fluid, his placement
of the actors absolutely right on, and for a play which works on such a simple level, he manages to achieve
moments of absolute breathtaking magic. You know, you never truly appreciate a director's contribution until
you see someone do it so right.
There is one staged moment in Dickinson that illustrates both the problem and glory of this play better than
dialogue ever could. It is the towering image of Emily standing on a table, while pages of the script are under
her feet. It is perhaps an unintentional image, in which she stands on top of the play, so powerful a figure that
the playwright's words cannot do her justice. Dickinson is not a perfect play, but it is a perfectly compelling one,
with a dazzling performance in the title role that shouldn't be missed."
Review - Dickinson (American International Theater, Inc. and the Planet Connections Theatre
Review by Byrne Harrison, Stagebuzz
The Emily Dickinson presented in William Roetzheim's Dickinson is nothing like the woman they teach about in
school, and thank goodness for that. While that Emily is interesting, in a literary way, this one fascinates in front
of our eyes. Dickinson bills itself as a "well-researched" story about the poet. What it uncovers is mostly
conjecture - how does one prove that which is merely hinted at in poems and letters? - but what Roetzheim
imagines brings an interesting new angle to Dickinson's story and a great jumping off point for further
Part of the beauty of Roetzheim's play is that it spins out Emily's secrets bit by bit, and always with pieces of her
work backing up the hypotheses. He does so in a very theatrical style that keeps the audience interested in the
way that a lecture never would. Dickinson imagines a playwright (Greg Wittman) who is finishing a five-play cycle
on the poets that most influenced 20th Century poetry. Having had no problems with the other four plays, he is
confounded by Emily Dickinson - unable to get a sense of who this mysterious person was. After another
drunken, fruitless evening, he finds himself in the same room with Emily Dickinson. She may be a ghost, a
vision, or a delusion, but whatever she is he yearns to hear her story from her point of view. Emily (Rhianna
Basore) has other plans. She is coy and cagey, and does not want to be understood. More importantly, there
are things in her life she wants to hide even from herself. Painful memories that she will hint at, but doesn't want
Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game between Emily and the playwright that ultimately leads to more questions
While the play has an interesting premise, it would be stronger were the two characters more evenly matched.
The playwright never really has a chance against Emily. Any points he scores during their interactions, almost
always seem to be given to him by Emily out of grace or perhaps pity.
Much of this is due to the playwright being a somewhat underwritten role, but it also comes from the actors
themselves. Basore throws herself into her role with an almost scary intensity. Her Emily is mercurial, leaping
powerfully from emotion to emotion, scene to scene, moment to moment. Wittman's playwright is not that strong.
He provides exposition, a sounding board for Emily, but he never comes across as her equal, or as a man who
wants to master her so he can truly bring her to life in his play.
Director Al Germani shows his strength as a director and his background in dance and music. The direction in
Dickinson often has the feel of choreography, and I mean that in a good way. The action is fluid, the stage
pictures interesting, and Germani creates a flow in the production that complements the rhythm of both
Dickinson's poetry and Roetzheim's dialogue.
While Dickinson is not without flaws, it offers a fascinating look at the 'warts and all' life of the poet. It is definitely
a standout production in the Planet Connections festival.
Interview published in the Clyde Fitch Report (http://www.clydefitchreport.com/?p=2422)
Q. Since the Festivity aims to promote social and cultural awareness in our community, can you talk about how
your show will bring people together? Is the subject matter of the play — or is it more style or message or
A. Audiences respond to this play because Emily’s personal struggles relate directly to one or more struggles
that they or someone they know are going through. The real Emily Dickinson does more than entertain us with
her poetry — she also inspires, teaches and consoles. To paraphrase her own words, “When Emily confides to
us that she is ‘acquainted with grief,’ we listen, for that is an acquaintance of our own.”
Q. What role do politics play in your work as a theater artist? What role should it play?
A. I approach working as a playwright much as I approach working as a poet. As a playwright or a poet, my
mission is to discover, clarify and expose core truths so that the audience will see, understand and perhaps be
forced to face. Sometimes the truths are physical truths about the real world: real people, real events and so
on. More often, the truths are inner truths, truths about human nature. Very often the truths are specific to
each member of the audience, so what I’m creating is a framework they can use to discover their own truths. It
seems that the reality of politics is that people want to use spin or psychological manipulation to accomplish
their personal objectives at the expense of the truth. It’s the job of the playwright and the poet to cut through all
of that to what lies beneath. What a playwright should avoid at all costs is simply using the power of the word
and stage combined with their own spin and psychological manipulation to further their own personal objectives.
Or at least recognize that, in doing so, they have stepped away from the world of art and into the world of
politics (if their objective is to state an opinion) or production (if their objective is to make money).
Theatre Scene review by Deirdre Donovan
Just what motivated Emily Dickinson’s life and poetry? The reclusive Amherst poet who became a major literary
figure has been a source of speculation for many scholars, biographers, and playwrights. Now playwright
William Roetzheim has undertaken the formidable task. ...This production brings us on a magical journey with a
Playwright (Greg Wittman) who is struggling to write the definitive play about Emily Dickinson, as it were, in hard
black lines. Exhausted with his Sisphean efforts to capture Dickinson as a fresh dramatic persona, the
Playwright falls asleep, only to have a dream in which he meets the ghost of Emily Dickinson (Rhianna Basore)
at her Amherst home. This dream within a play is a good idea. But once Wittman’s Playwright gets his bearings
in this dreamscape, nothing of fresh consequence about Dickinson is actually revealed. Although he asks the
poet a battery of questions that aims to extract the Truth out of her life and work, she cagily manages to
sidestep his questions with cryptic lines from her dazzling canon. ...Roetzheim has done his research, and done
it well. ...To be sure, the best parts of the play are the poems. And the most effective one staged is the famous
“Because I Could Not Stop For Death.” Used as a finale for the piece...This closing scene captures the
inimitable personality (and Voice) of the poet moving across an unknown—and eternal—landscape. Directed
with a breezy hand by Al Germani, this short play gives you great lines from the poems, and some interesting
anecdotes, but it doesn’t penetrate the poet. The old air of secrecy enveloping Dickinson remains solidly intact
as we exit the theatre.
Reviews from the San Diego run:
San Diego Theatre Scene, Jenni Prisk: Must See. You may not be lucky enough to see the enigmatic Dickinson
[because all] performances are sold out. However, I would still call the Theatre to see if you can get in!...
Roetzheim, a local playwright, has penned a perceptive 75-minute play about a woman who spends her life in
her room, and for a brief moment, we are given the key to that room and allowed to explore its darkness and its
light. Al Germani’s direction is insightful and creative.
San Diego News Network: Rhianna Basore is spellbinding as the poet, showing sparks of anger, jealousy,
passion, hysteria and depression. It’s a stunning performance. Al Germani directs with precision, keeping the
intensity high, as we watch the tortured woman whirl through the disturbing details of her life.
San Diego Magazine: ...the play offer[s] a characterization of the poet as a fully dimensional woman, not just the
ethereal, troubled spirit most often described in history books. She’s intellectual and dreamy, sure, but she’s
also flirtatious, romantic and childlike as well as sad, angry and fatalistic.
San Diego Uptown News: What patrons witness is a play as puzzling, frustrating and fragmented, and every bit
as fascinating as the poet, her life and her poetry. It’s an unsettling evening and that is the point.
Gay and Lesbian Times: This is right up psychotherapist Germani’s alley, and he makes the most of his
fascinating subject, staging it as a chamber piece, which keeps the audience’s attention on Emily and the
Playwright...It’s a highly recommended outing.
San Diego Reader: Using Dickinson's own words, playwright Roetzheim runs circles around these facile
reductions. Emily Dickinson contained more "multitudes" than Whitman. Worth a try.