Emily Dickinson onstage this weekend with poems, letters, songs


The three K's: Kirsch, Kelsey, Ketchum

All this talk about Emily Dickinson and new photos that may or may not be the poet, and so on, inspired a letter from a reader, Laura Dahl:

I recently read your blog about Emily Dickinson with special interest. On October 7 [click on date for details], the A. Jess Shenson Recital Series at Stanford is very excited to present  “This, and My Heart,” a theater/concert performance combining dramatic readings of Emily Dickinson’s poems and letters with song settings by American composers [Aaron] Copland, Tom Cipullo, Lori Laitman and Steve Heitzeg. Performers are actress Linda Kelsey (Lou Grant Show, M*A*S*H*, Rockford Files, Murder, She Wrote, etc.), Soprano Anne Marie Ketchum and pianist Victoria Kirsch.

Well, we couldn’t have put it much better ourselves.  Except to add that Kelsey appears to be an old hand at Dickinson.  There’s a 2009 write-up in the L.A. Weekly here.  Moreover, decade ago, she also performed the one-woman show Belle of Amherst in Minneapolis (she’s a native of St. Paul).  The Star Tribune added that she was selling “a self-published book of Dickinson’s poetry.” (Where is an editor when you need one?)

The Star Tribune had a more sensible write-up here, describing the play’s reference to Dickinson’s signature “Black Cake” (recipe here).

Says Kelsey:

Famous Black Cake

“I get the first laugh after I say, ‘Two pounds of butter,’ ” said Kelsey. “And, when I get to ’19 eggs’ and ‘you’d better leave it in the oven for six to seven hours,’ I get a lot of laughs.”

It probably takes a front-row seat – and a pair of finely calibrated opera glasses – to determine that the Black Cake Kelsey eats on stage isn’t the genuine article. It’s a prop substitute. Chocolate, perhaps?

“I can’t give away all our secrets,” she said. “But it’s very black looking, and quite delicious.” Why not the real thing? “I don’t think the expense associated with five pounds of raisins is in the Park Square budget,” Kelsey said. …

But counterfeit or legit, the cake is a key plot device. In the show’s final moments, Dickinson pours tea and shares a few last thoughts with the audience. “Oh, and when you make my cake, please tell me how you like it,” she says. “And when next we meet – I’ll give you my recipe for gingerbread! Gingerbread! Now there’s a word to lift your hat to.”

Not-so-famous Coconut Cake

I actually don’t care for the William Luce play, which makes Emily sound dotty and eccentric – an interpretation that’s been blown apart by recent books on the steamy life of the Dickinsons.  But while visiting her old digs in Amherst, I did pick up her recipe book (according to this website, it is now “out of print with limited copies available on line” – how can there be limited copies if it’s online? Oh well, it’s that editor thingumme again.)

I tried making her coconut cake.  That’s a cake for people who are serious about their coconut.  At least the way I made it, guessing quantities from the poet’s very imprecise instructions.

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