Hunter's acting transcends the basic craft, revealing founts of pure artistic talent. A joy to watch in such an intimate theater, she makes Emily's simple story enthralling by virtue of a gentle but ingenious personality. With the slightest flick of technique, she moves from pride to pain, loss to strength, from girlishness to rebellion. Under the able hand of director Peter Bennett, whose credits include a Drama Desk nomination and work at such esteemed houses as the Long Wharf, Hunter wafts about the stage with the soft urgency of nature, lost and alone, pleading with the audience to help her find solid ground in which to plant a legacy. When, at the age of 53, Emily speaks of her youth, of craving suitors, and of imagining herself the Belle of Amherst -- as opposed to the plain spinster in white she ultimately became -- the play tugs at everyone's lost illusions and disappointments, evoking a lump in the throat that marks powerful drama.
So forget about Batman Redux, Honey I Sucked Up the Kids, soap opera mannequins, and other brain drains. As a gift this week, I'll leave you with the glories of the human mind: Emily Dickinson describing the loss of loved ones: "So huge, so hopeless to conceive/As these that twice befell/Parting is all we know of heaven/And all we need of hell."
SMOKE AND MIRRORS by Will Osborne & Anthony Herrera, directed by Michael Hall; with Michael Minor, Pat Nesbit, Peter Bradbury, Don Robinson, and Tim Hodgin. At the Caldwell Theatre Company, 7873 N. Federal Hwy, Boca Raton, through September 6. Performances Tuesday -- Saturday 8:00 p.m., Sunday 7:00 p.m.; matinees Wednesday & Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets cost $20. Call 462-5433 or 407-241-7432
THE BELLE OF AMHERST by William Luce, directed by Peter Bennett; with Kim Hunter. At the Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches, 262 S. Ocean Blvd, Manalapan through August 30. Performances Thursday -- Saturday 8:00 p.m,, Sunday 7:00 p.m; matinees Wednesday & Sunday 2:00 p.m. Tickets cost $18-20. Call 407-585-3433