She was a woman … a poet … a lover.
She was found at the bottom of the stairs.
She made the city – she WAS the city. She was from the country.
I’d never read her …
These are some of the overlapping and recurring words of The Dysfunctional Theatre Company‘s theatrical piece I Shall Forget You Presently – a gorgeous dollop of theatre as evocative as a poem – magical, alluring – a love letter to a writer who wrote of love … and of more than love. You may have only vague notions of who Edna St. Vincent Millay was (she was a poet) or may dismiss her work (I’d never read her) because, like so many misconceptions, her time of birth seems to place her as someone from a by-gone era who would be out of touch with anything that your own life may reflect in this “modern world”.
Fortunately this beautiful homage written by Amy Overman and Eric Chase (who also directs) gives you not only a way to interact with Millay’s work, but a way to fall in love with it, as I did. Now playing as part of the Frigid New York Festival it has but one show left in its short run – all the more reason to read this review quickly so that you can get those tickets by clicking the link provided at the end.
Chase must have the soul of a poet himself, for his direction of this piece is as redolent and as transporting as any good piece of poetry can and should be. He not only makes Millay’s world come alive, but he makes her words rise up, shimmer, beckon.
The play is constructed as a play about poetry – and a poet – must be: filled with overlapping words and music, meaningful repetition that changes in nuance with each utterance, joyous patter set to an evocative tempo, all interwoven with soulful music and soaring ariasperformed expertly by Nicole Lee Aiossa who often sings a capella but is also sometimes accompanied on flute and saxophone by Rachel Grundy or on guitar by Adam Swiderski. Presently glitters in its brief hour with more beauty and brilliance than I would have thought possible.
With all the actresses having their turn at being Edna St. Vincent Millay (and some stepping into the shoes of her sister, Norma) the audience is brought several versions of the woman as interpreted through the mannerisms, postures and affectations of Nicole Lee Aiossa, Jennifer Gill, Rachel Grundy, Cara Moretto and Amy Overman. This effect gives us a Millay who is in turn playful, direct, authentic, romantic, yearning, and most of all – in every way -seductive. This makes the entire cast – including the wonderful men who support by playing Millay’s lovers, friends and husband (Rob Brown, Adam Files and Adam Swiderski) quite seductive in their own right. This is a true ensemble piece, melding, moving, catching up where another leaves off. As a cast The Dysfunctional Theatre Company is as in tune with their subject, and with their execution of the material as the poet herself was with her own creative voice.
Overman and Chase’s script – when not giving us snippets of poetry – give us a Millay who is shockingly accessible and raffish. ”Vincent” (as some friends called her) smoked, she drank, “she cursed and cut classes but she turned in work that was brilliant” … these days those things are not diametrically opposed.
It’s always shocking to realize — or rather reintegrate – the evidence that people were sexy and seductive in earlier centuries. As if the same sepia tones which color their fading photographs somehow scrub them clean of any impure thoughts. As if only our generation, or perhaps the one prior, invented longing, aching, frustration, confusion,
And if I loved you Wednesday,
Well, what is that to you?
I do not love you Thursday—
So much is true.
And why you come complaining
Is more than I can see.
I loved you Wednesday,—yes—but what
Is that to me?
– “Thursday” Edna St. Vincent Millay
But consider the biblical Bathsheba (mentioned in one interlude) whose seductive bath scene witnessed by David was as vivid and ribald as any webcam show. These are the connections Millay was offering up – and suddenly we realize that her discovery of prior centuries of lust is as surprising to her as ours is of her generation. Simply because people used more elegant and evocative language to discuss their urges doesn’t mean the fires weren’t burning with as much sizzle and steam as our own great love affairs.
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
– “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)” Edna St. Vincent Millay
At the end a teary eyed Cara Moretto addressed the audience as Edna and intoned Millay’s “First Fig”
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!
At this point my eyes were filled with tears as well – not just because I’d been so touched, so transported by what I’d just seen, but at the fact that these words had meant so much to me for so long – had been quoted by me, had been written in my diary at both triumphant as well as desperate moments, yet I had never bothered to cite the author for I had never known who it was. Wait. Just sit with that for a moment. I had never known who had written words I had quoted hundreds of times. It was both shaming as well as galvanizing. I couldn’t wait to dive headlong into more Millay.
“To know a great poet is a painful but precious privilege” says one of the characters in Presently, and so to know this great theatrical performance is both a painful but precious privilege. Painful for the brevity and fleetingness of it – painful for the travesty of never discovering this eloquent ebullient poet until now. But most definitely a precious privilege. Thank you, Dysfunctional Theatre Company, for capturing so hauntingly, so lushly, and so deeply the work of a poet who was a woman … a poet … a lover. A woman – found at the bottom of the stairs.
I Shall Forget You Presently
Company: Dysfunctional Theatre Company
Written by: Eric Chase and Amy Overman
~BASED ON THE WORKS OF EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY~
Directed by: Eric Chase
Mar 06, 5:30PM
Click HERE for tickets
Running time: 1 h 0 min
Price: $12.00 – $15.00
Seating: General Admission
The Kraine Theater
85 E. 4th Street
New York , New York 10003
2nd and 3rd Ave
Horse Trade Theater Group will present the 8th Annual FRIGID New York Festival at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery) and UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A) February 19-March 9. Tickets are available for purchase in advance at www.FRIGIDnewyork.info or by calling 212-868-4444.