Emily Dickinson and Susan Gilbert as seen by Austin Dickinson.


In September, the Pear Avenue Theatre, Mountain View, California opened its eighth season with the world premiere of a riveting new drama with music, Tell It Slant, by Palo Alto playwright Sharmon J. Hilfinger and Portland composer Joan McMillen, in a co-production with BootStrap Foundation. The production was so successful, with an entirely sold-out run, that BootStrap Foundation is remounting the production at Fort Mason Center, Southside Theater, Building D, San Francisco.

Tell It Slant portrays the little-known story of Emily Dickinson as a young woman, tracing an emotionally volatile love triangle involving  Emily, her brother Austin, and their intimate friend Susan Gilbert. Set in the Dickinson family's Amherst, Massachusetts home and environs, the play follows Emily through her formative years. Inwardly rebellious, but outwardly obedient, she continually finds herself at odds with the social expectations of the time. Calling herself "a boy," Emily bands together with her older brother Austin against the authority of their parents and the oppressive evangelism of the 1840s.

As Emily tries to define herself in a world that has few options for women, she experiences uncertainty and finally a betrayal that plunges her into deep despair. The play explores the creative process through which Emily discovers her remarkable poetic voice. For her, the process of creation is playful, curious, rebellious, dangerous, unexpected, and finally redemptive.

The original production was directed by Rachel Anderson, and the San Francisco remount is directed by Virginia Reed. Working together in this unusual ensemble piece, the actors appear on stage throughout the play and portray multiple roles. Dickinson's poetry is interwoven in the script both as original songs by Joan McMillen, and as scenes devised by the chorus of actors. The production features Caitlyn Louchard as Emily Dickinson, Siobhan Doherty as Susan Gilbert, Todd Brotze as Austin Dickinson, and the ensemble of Nick Allen, Bear Capron, Paz Pardo, Michael Sommers, and Juliet Strong playing multiple roles.  

BootStrap Foundation

BootStrap Foundation logo

Tell it Slant is produced by the BootStrap Foundation and is part of the In Performance Series at Fort Mason Center, which is supported by Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.