Maureen Silliman is Emily Dickinson in "The Belle of Amherst"

Apr 22, 2019

Maureen Silliman portrays Emily Dickinson
Credit Two River Theater Company

Broadway veteran Maureen Silliman takes us into the mind and soul of one of America's greatest poets Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, the latest production at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. 

Silliman sits down with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle to talk about why she loves this play and has enjoyed working again with Two River Theater founder Robert Rechnitz who is directing this version of The Belle of Amherst.

The Belle of Amherst premiered on Broadway in 1976, starring Julie Harris as Emily Dickinson. William Luce wrote the one-person award winning play.

Silliman praises William Luce's script.

"The longer I worked on it, the more I admired it.  When I first read it, I thought this is kind of intellectual, kind of academic, but the way he puts things together and the way things in the second act will echo something that happened in the first act.  The way he reveals who she is, it is quite skilled and very surprisingly human and emotional.  I think you see Emily's emotional life not just her life as a poet, but her life as a young girl and then as a woman and as a member of her family.  It's quite beautiful."  

Maureen Silliman has been a long-time favorite of audiences at Two River Theater
Credit Cassie Galasetti for WBGO

Silliman says performing this one-person play was very daunting at first.

"It was great to learn the poetry and I only knew it on a very surface level.  I wasn't a poetry student but thank goodness Robert Rechnitz was an English professor at Monmouth University and he was able to help me so much with the poetry.  We worked on it nine months before we actually went into rehearsal.  It's wonderful.  The poetry is wonderful but it was also great to discover what an amazing human being she was and how funny she was, and how insightful she was and how she expressed in her poetry and also in this play what we all feel."

How challenging is it to carry on conversations with people who the audience never gets to see?

"I think acting is pretending.  It's a lot of skill and people study and they go to these famous schools, but is pretending.  I think if you're a child and you play games where you pretend a lot, I think it lends itself to doing this kind of thing.  The play is very much Emily talking to the audience wanting to be heard, wanting them to know who she is.  And interspersed with that talking to the audience, which is wonderful because I can see them pretty well, she creates these scenes."

"The Belle of Amherst" is a one-person play
Credit Two River Theater Company

Silliman says Emily Dickinson found joy and ectasy in words and life.

"She wasn't the kind of person that you would picture would be a recluse sitting alone in a dark room.  She loved everything about nature and life.  She talked about people and she observed how they behaved.  She celebrated life I think."

The Belle of Amherst runs through May 5th at Two River Theater in Red Bank.

Click above to the hear the entire interview with Maureen Silliman.