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Manbites Dog Theater Review: Vincent Introduces Lyricist Edna St. Vincent Millay to 21st-Century Audiences in Need of Her Passion

November 9, 2004 - Durham, NC:


Vincent: An Evening of Edna St. Vincent Millay, presented Nov. 5-7 as part of Manbites Dog Theater's Other Voices Series, is Dorrie Casey's stirring lyric drama with music about the unorthodox life and incomparable lyric poetry and plays of her fellow Maine native. Conceived and created by Casey, and starring Dorrie Casey, Deborah Coclanis, and Meredith Sause, this tribute to "Vincent" Millay (1892-1950) started out as a recital piece (see http://www.cvnc.org/Archives092004.html#meredith).

Mezzo-soprano Dorrie Casey, pianist Deborah Coclanis, and actress Meredith Sause initially showcased songs in which composers Leslie Adams ("For You There Is No Song" and "Branch by Branch"), Arthur Bliss ("The Return from Town"), John Duke ("Return from Town"), Melissa Shiflett ("Rain Comes Down and Hushes the Town," "Mariposa," and "Song of a Second April"), and Deems Taylor ("Cockles and Thistles" from the opera The King's Henchman) set Millay's provocative poems to music. Now, a new and improved Vincent with considerable scenic and lighting assistance and directorial consultation from Manbites Dog artistic director Jeff Storer expertly mines Millay's poetry, plays, librettos, and letters for gems of spoken dialogue that elucidate the 20th-century American literary giant's life and art and loves. After breaking many a heart among her peers in poetry and prose, Millay married an improbable husband, Dutch businessman Eugen Jan Boissevain, whom she loved deeply and to whom she remained faithful in her fashion, dying just a year after he died.

During the show's Sunday matinee performance, actress Meredith Sause was lovely, dark and deep, and most expressive in reading snippets of Millay's poetry and correspondence, and tickled many a funnybone with her dual (and very different) impersonations of the aptly named Tidy and Slut in "Two Slatterns and a King," Vincent's show-within-the-show. Mezzo-soprano Dorrie Casey was in fine voice in trilling Millay's timeless rhymes, and pianist Deborah Coclanis provided inspired accompaniment and, at times, a bit of comic relief.

All in all, Vincent is a suitable tribute to the diminutive red-haired beauty and irrepressible bisexual free spirit whose passionate public performances of her sometimes-scandalous poetry provoked rock-star-like adulation from her contemporaries during the first half of the 20th century. Thanks to Vincent and 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, the life and works of the incomparable lyricist Edna St. Vincent Millay will find a new audience in a new century. Bravo.

Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/. 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.