Haunted by Emily…

a play

In her inimitable style, Emily comments on her relatives’ struggle over her estate following her death. Based on family letters, trial documents and the letters & poems of Emily Dickinson.


EMILY DICKINSON – a spryly girlish middle-aged woman with red hair
AUSTIN DICKINSON – her slightly older brother, very tall and dignified but with hair and subtly tailored clothing that suggest a wilder inner spirit and a conviction of personal aristocracy
MABEL LOOMIS TODD – a very pretty woman in her late twenties accustomed to showing herself to advantage, drawing all eyes and getting what she wants
SUE GILBERT DICKINSON – a woman Emily’s exact age but more commandingly matronly as Austin’s wife she is the major local hostess accustomed to luxe décor, rich and fashionable clothing, valuable jewelry, elegant parties, avant garde discussions of progressive ideas and competently ordering fleets of servants.
MAGGIE MAHER – Middle-aged Irish maid, very devoted to the Dickinsons, especially the Sisters
LAVINIA “VINNIE” DICKINSON – slightly younger than Emily, a tad foolish and very fond of cats, she is easily led until she gets her back up
DAVID TODD – a proud lover, a well-dressed ladies’ man, an astronomer and inventor who simply can’t advance in the world because he can’t leave other men’s wives alone
MR SPAULDING – The lawyer from Northampton. A clueless booby.
JUDGE – Elderly male
MR. HAMMOND – Prosecutor – hard driving mature male
MR HAMLIN – Defense – silky voiced mature male
MATTIE DICKINSON – Young woman; Sue and Austin’s daughter – pining for a youth lost in family squabbles, the very last descendant of an increasingly embattled family (should be played by the actress who plays SUE)
MILLICENT TODD – Young woman; an upstart with a good education determined to prove her mother’s not a whore (should be played by the actress who played MABEL)


Scene 1 – Massachusetts in the 1880’s. The stage is divided into two “houses”, represented at right by The EVERGREENS (open to show Library) and at Left by the HOMESTEAD (open to show Parlor.) A strip of flowery meadow runs down the center. Both buildings are in tiptop condition. Action takes place back and forth between The HOMESTEAD and The EVERGREENS.
Scene 2 – Same year, same place, a spring morning a few days later. Back and forth between the houses. Action commences at The Homestead where MABEL attempts to pay a call.
Scene 3 – A few weeks later, beginning at the Homestead.
Scene 4Austin & Mabel at the Homestead
Scene 5 – A brilliantly sunny day a few years later. A fresh-painted new house has been added between the two previous houses – at the back of the stage.
Scene 6 – Same places following AUSTIN’s death.
Scene 7Mabel & Vinnie at The Homestead
Scene 8 – A path in town a few weeks later
Scene 9 – Massachusetts courtroom in the 1890’s.
Scene 10 – The Homestead and the Evergreens in the 1930’s.

Scene 1
(At the front of the stage, lights go up on a red haired woman wearing worn black boots and a gauze aproned petticoat over black modern dance full-figure leotard. She stands stiffly at the center of the stage, clutching opposite hands in formal recitation pose.)

(Introducing herself; a recital pose)

This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me.

(Clears her throat, nervous at first, confidence increasing)

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you Nobody too?
Then there’s a pair of us.
Don’t tell! They’d advertise, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public! Like a frog!
Telling one’s name – the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

(She attempts some awkward dance steps.)

They shut me up in prose when I was just a girl, so I cannot dance upon my toes. But had I ballet knowledge, I’d pirouette to blanch a troupe!

(Ring on bell followed by knocking. EMILY rushes to answer door.)

What fortitude the Soul contains that it can so endure the accent of a coming foot, the opening of a door!

To be continued…

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