The Secret of the Circle

A play about Emily Dickinson, USA 1830-1886

Act II, scene 5.
On the stove a large, steaming pot of soup. A warn stool sits so far in the front part of the stage, that it remains in front of the curtain when it goes down. A working table along one wall and in the middle of the floor. A shelf with several cookbooks and an old bible. A bench along one wall, on the end of it brown paper wrapping and bags. Remote church bells calling to service in Amherst. EMILY Standing behind the desk in the middle with the ingredients in front of her plus two buttered loaf pans. She is wearing a large apron with pockets and is rolling up her sleeves, jittery. Fastens the sleeves above the elbow, sprinkles flour onto the table, straightens her hair and gets flour into her hair. Takes a creased slip of paper out of her pocket, reads it, puts it back in her pocket, takes it out again, corrects something with a pencil stub from her pocket, puts everything back.
Goes to a shining cobber kettle and looks at her own reflection. Discovers the flour in her hair, brushes it out, tends to the fire in the stove, adds more wood, burns her finger, sucks it.
Takes the brown paper bags from the chair and smoothens them. Slits them open with a knife and puts them underneath the cookbooks and the bible for pressure. Distributes flour over the table again. Rubs her nose so that it turns white. Dries her fingers, smiling to herself. Arranges a tray with a small decanter and two glasses of black currant wine.
Outside her dog Carlo is barking.
KATE Shouts outside the door: – Yuhuu – how is your humble disciple supposed to get past the guard? EMILY Opens rapidly: – Down, Carlo, down! Welcome, Kate. KATE Enters with black cape around her shoulders and a big bouquet of daisies. She is good looking, in her 30ies, dark hair, black dress with white collar. EMILY – Let me take your cape.
They embrace tenderly and exchange kisses on the cheeks. Kate notices Emily’s floury nose and smiles, Emily smiles back happily. KATE Hands over the bouquet: – Honored! Phew it’s hot like a Turkish bath in here!
Takes off her cape, Kate unbuttons her jacket: – Is it true that you won the first prize at the Cattle Show this year for your Rye and Indian Bread? And that all the ladies in town are dying to know what I’ll get to know today? EMILY Takes her cape and hangs it on a nail: – My biggest secret is only a poor thanks, Kate, for these days’ with you. Our journey down the blue rivers of Italy and up the glowing snow of the Alps! Sit down here in the first row so you can follow every single move.
– No wait – let’s begin with the best blackcurrant wine in town. Vinnie’s wine.
Pours. KATE – On a holy Sunday morning?
Takes her glass. EMILY – Noone will know. They’re all in church. Father is humming along to Nearer, my God, to Thee in this very holy moment! KATE – So there’s no one here but the two of us? EMILY – The entire population of Amherst is gathered at this moment in the paradise of The Hard Benches. Cheers, Katie dearest! Welcome to the real paradise of water and bread! KATE Drinks. – Now I know: you want to blur my senses so that I won’t remember the recipe!
Finds a small notebook in her purse, unable to find a pencil. EMILY Hands her the pencil stub from her pocket: – On the contrary. Blackcurrant sharpens your senses. And the senses are what we need when baking bread. KATE Writes: Emily Dickinson’s Rye and Indian Bread loaf. EMILY – Firstly: concentration. Only this one thought: bread.
Quickly throws some cornmeal, and warm water into the bowl and stirs. KATE – Hey what was that? How much flour did you use? EMILY Adds salt: – Measuring and weighing, Katie, that’s for bookkeepers. You remind me of Vinnie, when she feels the urge to direct our poor cakes on their way to the oven: Not too much salt, think of dad’s heart!
Adds a cup of milk:Not too much pepper think of mom’s nerves.
If I had to think of all the right things – if I were to create the right taste, Kate, then I would never bake tasty bread. Every time my dear sister turns her back, I add what is nescessary to the bread. So that I can vouch for it. The result always gets praised. KATE – So you sort of improvise? You bake off the top of your head? EMILY – Nothing is random. You must follow the rules of the bread, Kate. No one else’s. The ingredients are available to all of us, just like heat is, and yeast. It’s nourishment for the soul all of it. The alphabet belongs to all of us.
You set yourself on goal and work towards it.
Stirs the dough violently. KATE – Not everyone has such a precise vision when baking. EMILY – No Gods knows. When I taste Mrs. Professor Tuckermann’s éclairs I ask myself whether she was planning for boiled candy that day.
Adds something to the dough. KATE Grabs Emily by the wrist and licks her fingers, savors the taste: – Saleratus! You’re not supposed to use saleratus in Rye and Indian Bread! EMILY – Why not? KATE – Because then it wouldn’t be Rye and Indian Bread. EMILY Takes an old warn out cookbook from the shelf and slams it down in front of Kate: – Why don’t you just stick to the common recipe? You’ll find it in any old cookbook. It is the way you make use of the recipe. It is the temperature and dryness of the oven; it’s the ingredients and the focal point that matters, Kate. Write that down! KATE – Ingredients – and the focal point of the soul? EMILY Stirs: – Here is the recipe for Emily Dickinson’s prize winning Rye and Indian Bread prizewinning loaf. Here is the big secret that everyone wants to know: you mix the right ingredients and expose them to sufficient heat! KATE – Even if I were to bake a thousand Rye and Indian Bread loaves, they would never win the first prize at the Cattle Show. EMILY Lets go of the dough: – If you don’t trust your own taste buds, you’ll never bake anything original in your oven. You must have faith in yourself, Kate. If YOU can’t use your own taste buds no one else can. KATE – I prefer your taste buds. EMILY Turns the dough out into the flour on the table and hands Kate an apron: – Vinnie usually kneads with me. The more loving hands the better the bread. KATE – I really don’t know if I deserve this great honor.
Unbuttons her sleeves and rolls them up as if she were about to perform major surgery. Puts on the apron. – Are you always this enthusiastic about your work? EMILY Ties her apron: – Every bread has its own mood. You go easier on éclairs than on bread – but not as easy as Mrs. Tuckermann! You can have fun with cookies; confections are the little aphorisms of the table. But the daily bread is the foundation of our lives. It is the principal work of the authorship. KATE Begins to knead along with Emily. EMILY – Gentler Kate, and deeper. Every little crumb needs to be caressed by your fingers several times. With love. KATE – With love?
Kisses her doughy fingers and kneads on: – Lots of love?! EMILY – It is the first time kisses are baked in The Homesteads oven. This will be unequaled bread. The spitting image of its mothers. KATE Extends her doughy hand for a kiss. EMILY Kisses Kates hand. Gains courage and kisses every fingertip. Grabs both of Kates doughy hands in her own: – Oh Kate. These days with you have been wonderful. Stay with us! KATE – I haven’t left yet. EMILY – I have the most wondrous dreams of us doing everything together. Traveling and reading and meeting people – and baking – I fear that you’ll be gone all of a sudden without giving me a notice. That I won’t be seeing you in there tomorrow on the other side of the hedge. KATE – Surely I am not going to leave without saying goodbye.
Attempts to get loose but the dough and Emily hold on to her. EMILY – I had no idea you could share as much with another human being, as we have been sharing these past days. Vinnie and father and mother and I – we live separate lives in this house, Kate. All solitary royalty. There is no laughter without Austin, no one to talk books with. KATE – But you do have Austin right here, at the other side of the hedge. And Sue. EMILY Frees herself abruptly and kneads: – Sue? Sue can taste. She’s good at that. Not enough salt or The crust should be a bit crispier next time, now that you’ve got the crumb so airy. That would make a nice contrast, she says when the rest of them just say yummy!
But Sue doesn’t have a shred of patience. She has a sure instinct for her own means, but she doesn’t kiss her dough. She leaves it to others to bake her bread. KATE – Just like me!
Lifts her hands from the dough and makes witch-fingers at Emily. Approaches teasingly. EMILY Flees mirthfully avoids Kate, who is chasing her around the kitchen. Carlo growls outside and begins to bark.
Emily jabs her hand into the water bucket and is about to splash water on Kate. Kate ducks and the water hits the wall, they both lean over the doughy table, gasping with laughter.
EMILY Notices something in the dough: – Your ring.
Fishes the ring out and places it on the table in front of them.
Turns practical and pours water into a washbowl. They both begin cleaning the dough of their hands.
KATE – Campbell requested my hand in marriage. I was only thinking about Sue. Of our plans, our music lessons and dance lessons and books. Campbell was almost a bit in the way. Until Austin – EMILY – You. And Sue. KATE – We shared a room at Ipswich when we were nineteen. You know that. We got first grades in all classes. Math, German, French – EMILY – The few French words I know, Sue taught me. I don’t know how many times we conjugated the verb aimer. KATE – You and Sue – you conjugated the verb aimer –? EMILYTo love. J’aime, tu aimes, il, elle aime, nous aimons – KATE – It must be more than ten years ago. I was in bed that day, unwell. Sue had been taking care of me with herbal tea and a hot-water bottle the whole night before our midterm French test. We needed to learn the conjugation of aimer before sunrise.
J’aime, tu aimes, il, no, elle aime. Nous aimons. We love.
We had known the whole time. Ever since the very first day we laid eyes on each other. It was like meeting your twin. One you had always been waiting for. I don’t know how long we sat looking at each other that first night. A very pure, very clear emotion. Just like being a child and an adult at the same time. EMILY – When, Kate? When was that night? KATE – When? Let me see. It must have been shortly after the big women’s conference in Seneca Falls. EMILY – May forty-eight. That May I did nothing but write to Sue. Isn’t it a human right, I wrote, to have another human being – KATE Completes:in your heart. EMILY Steps backwards for each following word until she hits the wall. KATEI hope for you so much, and feel so eager for you, feel that I cannot wait, feel that now I must have you – – – I go to sleep at night, and the first thing I know, I am sitting there wide awake, and clasping my hands tightly, and thinking of next Saturday … – Why, Susie, it seems to me as if my absent Lover was coming home so soon – and my heart must be so busy, making ready for him. (L. 96) EMILY – Did Sue – did she show you my letters –?!! KATE – What was she supposed to do, Emily? She came to me, six months before her wedding; your letters in one hand and Austin’s in the other. One hand burning and the other searing. She didn’t know what to do. She had to talk to someone. EMILY Slowly slides down onto the bench. KATE – Those letters – the very few paragraphs, Sue read to me, are some of the most beautiful lines I have ever heard, Emily. Sentences so full, I knew they were written by an extraordinary person. I have wanted to meet you ever since. To get to know you. EMILY – Six months before the wedding. I knew nothing about that wedding. KATE – She told me that neither of you would accept a rejection. I quoted Tennyson: The woman is the better man. Men you marry, I told her. Women are passion. EMILY – Is it possible to love more than one person at the time, Kate? Is it? KATE Takes the buttered loaf pan and gently pours the dough into it in two loaves: – Sometimes one infatuation creates the next. You feel so affluent, you overflow, flowing on into the next person. Love knows no laws and rules about marriage and fidelity. EMILY – No. KATE – Wasn’t Austin very fond of Sue’s sister Martha? I saw Martha shortly after his engagement to Sue, she was pale as a corpse. Didn’t she get married very speedily after that, with that dull draper in Geneva –? EMILY – Was Sue ever in love with Austin? Has she been cold and hot and soft and full of happiness at the thought of him? Has she?
Why did the two of them pick each other, Kate? Why? KATE Lets the loaves sit in the pan and sits down. – Read me some poems. Like yesterday. Oh please. Just one.

5th scene, 2nd act of The Secrect of the Circle, performed at KALEIDOSKOPTEATRET

The press wrote …

Lise Garsdal, Politiken, May 14th 1997:

Pleasant experiment of form from Bente Clod at Kaleidoskop Theatre. The image-mosaic of Francis Bacon-like facial knots forms a curtain that is intermittently punctured by light, sound and movement. With curiosity you follow the words and the fluttering women’s arms, elegantly perforating the thing you thought to be as massive as patriarchy itself.
A woman is boxing in her transparent cocoon made of fabric, working with the membrane and being tempted by the light on the other side. And then she breaks through – beyond. Cause not until after her death was the poetry of Emily Dickinson acclaimed.

Camilla Kjærsgaard, Berlingske Tidende, May 1997:

A portion of the American poet’s life, presenting Dickinson as a gifted and independently thinking woman, although quite like Jane Austen, oppressing her common sense and her emotions.