By Eric Chase and Amy Overman; Directed by Eric Chase
Part of the 2014 Frigid New York Festival
Off Off Broadway, New Play With Music
Runs through 3.6.14
Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th Street
by Amanda LaPergola on 2.21.14
Amy Overman, Nicole Lee Aiossa, Cara Moretto, Jennifer Gill and Rachel Grundy. Image by Theresa Unfried.
BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful, dreamy mélange of the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
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!
I think I had heard of Edna St. Vincent Millay before. The name is certainly familiar; maybe I had caught snatches of her verse from quote books and such. I have to admit, I am woefully undereducated when it comes to poetry, and before I saw Dysfunctional Theatre Company’s I Shall Forget You Presently, I had very little knowledge of Millay’s life or her work. Thank God I have seen this play, because I did not know how much I had been missing.
According to the program, director and playwright Eric Chase began discussing the possibility of staging Millay with coauthor Amy Overman after a Millay-themed literary walking tour. The two were struck by the beauty and potency of Millay’s words, particularly the Shakespearean flavor of her sonnets. They also thought Millay’s unconventional life -- openly bisexual, fiercely feminist; a hard-drinking, smoking Vassar College rebel -- had theatrical potential.
Chase and Overman crafted I Shall Forget You Presently with a focus on Millay’s words. “We didn’t want to simply write a biography about the life of Millay,” writes Chase in the program notes. “Instead, we wanted to use her words, her poetry to convey the spirit of who she was.” Thus, I Shall Forget You Presently eschews conventional autobiographical tropes in favor of a looser, more dream-like structure. Millay’s words are the star and the story of this show. Aside from a few original vignettes by the playwrights, along with some quotes from Millay’s friends and colleagues, the bulk of the text belongs to Millay. And the play is all the better for it.
The eight-person ensemble of I Shall Forget You Presently (of which Overman is a member) visibly relishes the opportunity to speak such beautiful verse. You can practically see them taste the words. The five women trade off on the role of Millay, while the three men take on the mantles of colleagues, partners and lovers. The liquidity of the casting from scene to scene does muddy the narrative a little, but narrative was never the point of this show. Chase and Overman did not set out to pen a conventional show, because Millay herself was so unconventional.
It’s hard to pin down a way to describe I Shall Forget You Presently. In the program notes, Chase offers a few phrases like “kaleidoscope,” “poetical patchwork,” and so on before admitting his favorite descriptor: “cabaret.” I could agree with that title. The live band onstage -- Adam Swiderski on guitar, Rachel Grundy on tenor sax and flute, and Nicole Lee Aiossa on lead vocals -- certainly gives the show a cabaret flavor. Aiossa, in particular is impressive. An experienced opera singer, she possesses a velvety, versatile soprano that she wraps nimbly around chamber music, arias, and jazz, depending on the setting of the scene. It would be worth a trip to I Shall Forget You Presently just to hear Aiossa sing.
I left the Kraine Theater with my appetite whet for more Millay and more poetry in general. I feel that a show like I Shall Forget You Presently is needed in this particular time in history. We live in an age that moves so quickly and seems so precarious that things like poetry are seen as quaint or frivolous, and nothing could be further from the truth. Poetry is the bridge between our limited surface life and the boundless beauty of the human mind and heart. To read or write poetry is to connect with the sleeping magical nature of our own souls. I urge you to see I Shall Forget You Presently and recognize the hunger for poetry and beauty that you may have tried to ignore.
(I Shall Forget You Presently plays as part of the Frigid Festival at the Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street, through March 6, 2014. Performances are Saturday, February 22nd at 3:40PM; Friday, February 28th at 8:40PM; Sunday, March 2nd at 6:50PM; and Thursday, March 6th at 5:30PM. Tickets are $15 and are available at frigidnewyork.info or by calling 212.868.4444.)