The Ensemble for the Romantic Century has come up with another of its music and biographical mixtures, this time glimpsing into the life of poet Emily Dickinson punctuated by a five-member musical group and vocals by an accomplished soprano.
Dickinson, who died in 1886 at the age of 55, is portrayed by Angelica Page. The soprano in fine voice is Kristina Bachrach. The musicians, all excellent, are Victoria Lewis, violin; Melanie Clapies, violin; Chieh-Fan Yiu, viola; Ari Evan, cello, and Max Barros, piano.
Unfortunately, the musical aspect of the program far outweighs the verbal part of the excursion into Dickinson’s life. As written by James Melo, the text is sketchy and not very dramatic or poignant. Perhaps it is what she has to work with, but Page’s portrayal comes across as rather vacuous and uninvolving as she struggles to find recognition for her work. Some of the quotes from her writing stand out, whether spoken or projected, but the character does not. The costume design by Vanessa James evokes the period, and the scenic design by James is serviceable.
Last year a film, “A Quiet Passion,” with Cynthia Nixon playing Dickinson, delved more deeply into her life (See Search for review). The film dramatically portrayed Dickinson lapsing into an existence of illness and withdrawal and was unnervingly sad. The emphasis on Dickinson’s bowing to her austere father and other family dynamics completed a grim picture. Of course, a film can be much more elaborate, but it at least demonstrates how lacking the biographical elements are in this staging.
Under the direction of Donald T. Sanders, “Because I Could Not Stop” comes across as only a passing glance. Fortunately, the music composed by Amy Beach (1867-1944) as performed here is sublime and makes that part of the visit enjoyably satisfactory. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Reviewed September 28, 2018.