There is a natural tendency for us as humans to look back on great figures of the past as unblemished, perfect heroes. It can be very easy for us to forget that no matter how distinguished or influential some of our predecessors were, they were just as human as we are today, and carry all the imperfections that come with being a part of the human race.
Meet Emily Dickinson. Famous writer, visionary poet, and….stir crazy cat lady? In this new angled look at the historic poet’s life, audiences see the more imperfect side of Emily—“imperfect” being defined loosely here. While it is common knowledge Emily was one of the best poets in our history, all present evidence suggests that Emily almost never left her home in Amherst, MA, driving her to near insanity in her prolonged solitude. In Tanya O’Debra’s examination of this woman’s life, Emily begins to reexamine her own life while ironically looking longingly at death, all accompanied by her imaginary Master who heckles her for her insanity and refusal to leave the house.
Tanya O’Debra sure shattered the perfect image of Emily Dickinson as a visionary writer. As Emily, Tanya moved through the story with an almost teenage girl attitude, complete with whiny tone and youthful angst. She was the portrait of a girl lost in her loneliness, but too afraid to reach out to anyone except perhaps one of her sister’s many cats, and of course, the imaginary Master that pervaded her mind.
The show is was not without serious moments, which mostly came when O’Debra read some actual Emily Dickinson poetry. The juxtaposition of the batty Emily character next to the real Emily’s words surprisingly made the poetry sound stronger. Because audiences saw the human side of Emily, her poetry was also humanized, no longer sounding like words from a heavenly disembodied voice but rather words from a living, breathing person.
Hilarious and at times touching, Shut Up Emily Dickinson was a sight to see. One can only hope that O’Debra will stop by Cincinnati again with another story to tell.
by Matthew Ruehlman