By Marcina Zaccaria
Ensemble for the Romantic Century is known for producing theatrical concerts with an often brilliant blend of musicology and political awareness. Their works include live music, an evolved type of recitation/ performance, and intricate design. Because I Could Not Stop is no exception. Featuring the poems of Emily Dickinson, this play features moments from Emily’s life from 1830-1886. It also brilliantly explains how all of her poems were eventually published, many posthumously.
The play begins with the explanation of Dickinson’s upbringing in Amherst, with her father, a professor, originally raised as a Puritan. Poem by poem, Emily, who was also an accomplished pianist, writes regularly, sorting through drafts of her poems while book binding with thread. On the floor below her is a spiral of previous drafts, and throughout the play, she grasps further meaning by tracing the words, dancing around them, or lying down next to them.
Introduced are her grounding principles of soul, light, and faith. The rhythm of her speech accentuates every sound. There is an innocence and great sense of youth from Angelica Page, who portrays Emily as staid and earth-bound. With a bow around her neck and a rose-colored, long taffeta skirt, Ms. Page, who was previously seen in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man on Broadway, is no stranger to portrayal of famous poets. She received an Outer Critics Circle nomination for Best Solo Performance for her portrayal of Sylvia Plath in Edge. There’s something incredibly inhabited and complete about her Emily. While she’s weighty and judgmental, she is also fair and honest.
Page’s supporting players include Soprano Kristina Bachrach, and a musical ensemble that includes violin, viola, cello, and piano. The world of Emily and her desk exists almost completely separately from the world of the musicians, except for a moment when there are parlor games. While the sights include the world of the poet (with detailed factual, historic information behind her), the sounds are incredibly full. Pianist and Co-Artistic Director Max Barros leads a capable ensemble. Musical selections like “Morning Glories,” “Ah, Love but a Day,” and “Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor, op 67” compliment the action that is both contemplative and reverent. Playwright and Musicologist James Melo includes a segment about the passage of time, leading up to the American Civil War.
Part Two of this one hour and 45 minute drama includes the news of the tragic death of Emily’s mother and father. Visual themes include images of flowers and spider webs. Dark red roses and blue flowers blossom and wither on the screen. Projections by David Bengali include plain text that gives us every sense of time and story. Director Donald T. Sanders finds depth in the imagery, bringing even more dimension to the outstanding and memorable performance of Angelica Page.
Photos: Shirin Tinati
Because I Could Not Stop will be playing at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, located at 480 West 42nd Street between Dyer and 10th Avenues, until October 21st.