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Manbites Dog Theater Preview: Vincent Celebrates the Life and Lyrics of Edna St. Vincent Millay

November 4, 2004 - Durham, NC:


Durham, NC-based Manbites Dog Theater will present Vincent: An Evening of Edna St. Vincent Millay Nov. 5-7 as part of its Other Voices Series. Conceived and created by Dorrie Casey, the show will star Casey, Deborah Coclanis, and Meredith Sause.

According to Manbites Dog, the script for Vincent will be include excerpts from "Millay's poetry, plays, letters, librettos, and [will also include] songs set to Millay poems by Leslie Adams, Arthur Bliss, John Duke, Melissa Shiflett, and Deems Taylor."

Although she stood just five feet, four inches tall and weighed but 100 pounds in her prime, Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was one of the giants of 20th century American literature. Born in Rockland, Maine and educated at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, the diminutive redheaded beauty was not only one of the greatest lyric poets in U.S. literary history, but also a capable dramatist and a powerful polemicist who wrote a scathing condemnation of the trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.

After publishing her first book, Renascence and Other Poems, in 1917, the iconoclastic and sexually adventurous poet called "Vincent" by family and friends made her home in New York City's notoriously Bohemian Greenwich Village and numbered avant-garde artists and politically radical writers among her friends. Millay won the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, her fourth book of poems. In 1925, she married Dutch businessman Eugen Jan Boissevain, who managed her career and arranged her personal appearances. Theirs was an "open marriage"; and they made their home at Steepletop, near Austerlitz, New York, in a big house on a farm in the Berkshire foothills.

Encyclopædia Britannica writes, "Millay's youthful appearance, the independent, almost petulant tone of her poetry, and her political and social ideals made her a symbol of the ["flaming youth"] of her time. In 1927 she donated the proceeds from her poem 'Justice Denied in Massachusetts' to the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti and personally appealed to the governor of the state for their lives. Her major later works include The Buck in the Snow (1928), which introduced a more somber tone to her poetry; Fatal Interview (1931), a highly acclaimed sonnet sequence; and Wine from These Grapes (1934)."

In perhaps her most widely quoted lyric, Millay wrote, "My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends / It gives a lovely light!"

Edna St. Vincent Millay burned her candle at both ends and died young in 1950, of heart failure after an accidental fall in her isolated home in the Berkshire foothills. Her highly eventful life and sometimes scandalous loves are detailed in two 2001 biographies: Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford and What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Daniel Mark Epstein.

An expert of Millay's life and career, Dr. Holly Peppe writes, "Millay... moved far beyond the prescribed boundaries of the lyric genre and took unprecedented risks with her subject matter by favoring women's sexuality as a theme. In doing so she was redefining the culturally accepted idea of 'feminine virtue' an accomplishment that encouraged other women to reevaluate the limitations placed on their lives by their heritage and their society."

Manbites Dog Theater presents Vincent: An Evening of Edna St. Vincent Millay Friday-Saturday, Nov. 5-6, at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 7, at 3:15 p.m. at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $15. 919/682-3343 or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. Note: There will be a Post-show discussion after the Nov. 7 Sunday matinee performance. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/. Edna St. Vincent Millay Society: http://www.millaycolony.org/esvm.html. Millay Colony for the Arts: http://www.millaycolony.org/index.html. Academy of American Poets: http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?45442B7C000C070308. Modern American Poetry: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/millay/millay.htm. Vassar College: http://specialcollections.vassar.edu/millay/index.html. "Edna St. Vincent Millay: A Literary Phenomenon" by Benjamin Griffith (Sewanee Review, Summer 2003): http://www.sewanee.edu/sreview/Griffith111.3.463.