Review "Wild Nights with Emily": Sexy, Witty, Conspiracy Theory

Caffeine Theatre presents

Wild Nights with Emily


At Lincoln Square Arts Center

(Berry Methodist Church), 4754 N. Levitt

Written by Madeleine Olnek

Directed by Meghan Beals McCarthy

Thru April 11th

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Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!

- Wild Nights by Emily Dickinson

Reclusive spinster rejecting marriage offers or passionately loving lesbian infatuated with her sister-in-law? The possible life and times of Emily Dickinson are pondered as Caffeine Theatre presents Wild Nights with Emily. Legendary poet Emily Dickinson wrote over eighteen hundred poems. Only a dozen poems were published in her lifetime. Posthumous, Emily's extensive portfolio is discovered and her life is pieced together by her brother's mistress and others. One of her admirers pushing for publishing is quoted saying, "One poem only I dread a little to print - that wonderful 'Wild Nights,' - lest the malignant read into more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there." Was Dickinson an uptight virgin dreaming of romance or a sensual artist obsessed with a forbidden love? Wild Nights with Emily is a fast paced humorous conspiracy theory about an eccentric poet's secrets.

Wild Nights with Emily jumps back and forth from past to present. Modern day and historical characters speculate on the meaning of Dickinson's words and actions. Playing the poet herself, Jessica Bennett (Emily) is wonderfully fixated on her illicit affair and crazed into writing as an outlet to the love mania. As the target of the obsession, Dana Black (Susan) is both engaged by and aloof with the intense attention. Having never met Dickinson, Amanda Hartley (Mabel) is confident and arrogant as the brother's mistress deciphering Emily's poetry and life. The majority of the cast is playing multiple roles. Dissecting 'who is who' isn't just about the historical premise of the play. It's the challenge of the talented cast truly becoming an ensemble. Some of my favorite comedy bits were an uptight headmistress and an outspoken lesbian feminist. I believe the roles were played by Carey Lee Burton and Annie Calhoun (not sure who played who). Lauren Vitz is fun as the aging suitor, Judge Lord. Whether as The Ladies of Shakespeare Club or a family of tourists, the ensemble keeps it lively with multiple costume changes and precise comedic timing.

Under the direction of Meghan Beals McCarthy, the ropes come off of the museum history and are used in sexual exploits. Keeping it lively, McCarthy stages simultaneous discourse and intercourse to breathe life into words. Playwright Madeleine Olnek has written a witty expose on the quirky life of Emily Dickinson. With obvious extensive research, Olnek entertainingly pieces together Dickinson's herstory from Emily's writings and other's interpretations of her writings. It certainly gives contemporary writers pause to future generation's conclusions drawn from blogs, facebook statuses, and twitter tweets. Uh-Oh!

A word is dead when it is said

Some say -

I say it just begins to love

That day

-Emily Dickinson

A champion for lesbian love, Shawn describes it as a "tragic love story."


Pre-show we dine at Pizza DOC, 2251 W. Lawrence. It's a casual, family friendly restaurant.  We split the lightly breaded calamari as an appetizer.  It's a tasty, big portion.  Next, we decide on the vegetarian pizza with the awesome addition of salami. Delicious!  There is more than a half of a pizza left and the busser wraps it in foil so I can transport it in my purse.   The staff is friendly and when it gets busy, the host/owner jumps in to expedite the check-out process.

Post show, we head to State Bar, 935 W. Webster. This place has got everything. There are 30+ televisions broadcasting a variety of basketball games. Beautiful girls and their skank competition are vying for the attention of metrosexuals and their jock rivals. A clad of handsome gay men are bon voyaging a Texas-bound friend. An overly-attentive valet is dispensing soap in the ladies room. The center bar is crowded but I shimmy up to a spot. With a $20 out and fiercely playing the eye contact game, it's challenging to order a drink at the well-staffed bar. Perhaps, the bartenders are anticipating my stereotyped demographics' tipping tendencies. Oh Emily, people's misinterpretation of 'who you are' can lead to pure anguish. Oh well, there will be other wild nights...

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