To say the Mesquite Arts Theatre’s upcoming stage production of “The Belle of Amherst” has been a long time in the making would be a vast understatement.
Rehearsals for the one-woman show actually began in February of last year but the COVID-19 pandemic forced things to be put on hold before finally being shelved, much like other MAT productions in 2020.
But 2021 has already seen the MAT’s first show of the season – albeit with some winter weather adjustments – in February’s “Nunsense: The Mega-Musical Version” and beginning April 9, “The Belle of Amherst” begins a three-weekend run at the Mesquite Arts Center’s Black Box Theatre through April 25.
Director Scott Croy said the Black Box Theatre more aptly suits the intimate style of “The Belle of Amherst.”
“Being in the Black Box will be like coming home again,” Croy said. “Live theater is best performed when the actors and patrons can relate to each other and that is exactly what the Black Box offers.”
Croy has been involved with the MAT in one capacity or another for 27 years with “The Belle of Amherst” his 13th production as director. His favorite directing credits are “Camelot,” “Agnes of God,” “100 Years of Broadway,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and most recently “The Elephant Man.”
“The Belle of Amherst” is the story of reclusive 19th century poet Emily Dickinson as she recalls her past through her work, diaries and letters and a few encounters with significant people in her life. The William Luce play has been described as showing both the pain and the joy of Dickinson’s secluded life in Amherst, Mass.
Croy said “The Belle of Amherst” is like traveling back in time to the 1880s and spending some time with Dickinson.
“[You] take a step behind the poetry and see the creative force behind one of the most prolific poets in American history,” Croy said. “Learn about her life, her family, her love of nature and language and celebrate her creative genius, wit and exuberance.”
Cast as Dickinson is Julie Phillips – a veteran of many Metroplex theaters including memorable roles in “The Cemetery Club,” “The Savannah Sipping Society,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and the title character in “The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wilde.”
Phillips said performing in a one-woman show is unlike anything she’s done before and being the lone actor on stage does come with its hurdles.
“There is no one to bounce anything off of and there is no safety net,” Phillips said. “You have to find your energy and stay there. You cannot for a second lose focus. It is a daunting task and I hope I am doing my best to find Emily’s genius and I hope I am doing her justice. Playing a real person is a challenge.”
Tickets for “The Belle of Amherst” are available online. Adult admission is $15, students and seniors over 55 are $12 and children under 12 are $10. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees start at 2:30 p.m. Season ticket holders – including those from 2020 – must call 972-216-8126 to reserve seats for the performance they wish to attend.
While the City of Mesquite recently lifted its mask requirement at facilities such as the arts center, MAT officials prefer that patrons still wear them when attending performances to maintain a safe environment for both audience members and those on stage. Seating in the Black Box Theatre has been configured to allow sufficient space for appropriate social distancing.
The MAT’s next production following "The Belle of Amherst" will be the June musical offering, “Always… Patsy Cline,” which will run from June 12 to June 27. The show features memorable hits by the legendary country singer who died tragically at the age of 30 in a 1963 airplane crash as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” Sweet Dreams” and “Walking After Midnight.”
The 2021 season will continue with “The Island of Dr. Libris” (August 6-22), “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” (Oct. 9-24) and “A Christmas Story” (Dec. 3-19). Auditions for “The Island of Dr. Libris” are scheduled for June 14-15, “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” on August 30-31 and “A Christmas Story” on Oct. 25-26.
The Mesquite Arts Center is located at 1527 N. Galloway Ave. and information about supporting the Mesquite Arts Theatre is available online.