Julie Harris will offer her portrayal of reclusive poet Emily Dickinson during a pair of benefit performances of "The Belle of Amherst" this weekend at the Laguna Moulton Playhouse.

The Saturday and Sunday shows will help raise money for the playhouse's building fund, which is trying to secure $1 million to finish a 5,000-square-foot rehearsal hall. Another $1 million is needed for the playhouse's operating endowment, said Karyn Rohrer, the theater's development director.

"The Belle of Amherst" is a familiar production for Harris, who first performed it on Broadway in 1976 and later for PBS and at many major cities, including Los Angeles. Written by William Luce, the play follows the introverted but incandescent life of Dickinson, who is regarded as a landmark American writer.

"Emily was turned into a greater force, far beyond what mortals experience in a lifetime," Harris has said of Dickinson and her writing gifts.

More recently, Harris has toured in a one-woman dramatization of another author, Charlotte Bronte. The show, "Bronte: A Solo Portrait of Charlotte Bronte," has played at several colleges and selected theaters, including Cal State Fullerton last month.

Harris' Laguna Beach appearance is expected to raise as much as $25,000, said Rohrer, who noted that rehearsal hall construction should begin by fall next year.

The playhouse, founded in 1920 and considered the oldest continuously operated community theater in California, just completed a $650,000 renovation that added 2,000 square feet to the facility, including a 68-seat balcony and new second-floor offices, said Rohrer.

It was the first major expansion since the playhouse opened its permanent home--then a 16,750-square-foot structure with 350 seats--in 1969 at the Laguna Canyon Road site next to Irvine Bowl.

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