Portland Press Herald

St. Vincent Millay returns to Maine roots in cabaret-style revival

Bob Keyes: Staff Writer

This summer in Stonington, Linda Nelson and the creative team at Opera House Arts will explore the life and times of Maine-born poet Edna St. Vincent Millay with an original musical, “The Millay Sisters, A Cabaret.”

Opera House Arts presented a one-act version last summer on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Nelson’s poem “Renascence,” her breakthrough work. Opera House Arts artistic director Judith Jerome expanded the piece to two acts, more fully developing Millay’s relationships with her sisters, her mother and husband.

“Part of the reason we are doing it in long-form run was because it was a smashing success last summer,” Nelson said. “We turned so many people away at the door. We had great reviews and feedback; we saw an opportunity to continue to develop it and do a full run.”

Mind you, a full run at Stonington is just six performances. It will be presented July 5-7 and July 12-14 at the Burnt Cove Church, which seats about 80 people. “The Millay Sisters” is the centerpiece of a community-wide Millay celebration. It begins with a community discussion of the book “Save Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay” by Nancy Milford at 7 p.m. Monday. Milford will talk at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Opera House.

The cabaret brings attention to Millay’s life, her formative-years environment, her relationships among family, and her adult life.Millay was born in Rockland in 1892, and her parents divorced when she was 12. She and her sisters, Norma and Kathleen, were very close. Their mother, Cora, raised the girls alone in Camden, and instilled in them a strong sense of cultural education. “Their mother played the piano, and they would sit around and sing,” Jerome said.

The piece follows Millay when she moves as a young woman to New York, adopts feminist causes and begins living an openly bisexual lifestyle. The story is told as a cabaret of songs from the American songbook of the early 20th century: “Peg o’ My Heart,” “K-K-K-Katie,” “Goodnight Sweetheart” and the “Camden Rag.” Millay is an important figure in Maine’s cultural life. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1923, the same year she married.

“She was a feisty, independent woman, which was unusual in her day. It’s really a pretty remarkable story when you step back and take a look,” Nelson said. “She grew up on the coast of Maine as an independent woman, and had her own sense of feminism and independence, and she wrote about it. We talk so much about how our sense of who we are arises so much from our particular place. Her early work is so embedded in Maine geography and the geography of the Camden Hills. We’re really trying to grasp at those roots.”

MPBN — Maine Public Broadcasting Network

Maine’s Famous Millay Sisters Inspire Musical

Reported By: Tom Porter
Towards the end his life, acclaimed Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy once said there were two great reasons to visit America: the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Hailing from from mid-coast Maine, she is regarded as one of the finest poets of the early 20th century. Millay was also known for her feminist activism, bohemian lifestyle and many love affairs with members of both sexes. What’s less known, perhaps, is the fact that she had two lively younger sisters. Like Edna, Kathleen and Norma were artistically inclined, independent and spoke their mind. The Millay sisters are the subject of a musical play showing in Stonington tonight. The one-night-only performance is part of the centenary celebrations of the Stonington Opera House. Earlier this week, Tom Porter caught a glimpse of the show in rehearsal.Listen to the Show