The cast of Bunny and Vincent (from left) Shelly Stoye, David Duncan, Cassi McKenna, Sean Nickerson, Angelique O’Rourke, Lyndon Zaitz and James Kemp. On the sofa: Claire Seaton as Vincent and Anthony Redelsperger as Bunny. Photo by KATE BOMAR
The 45th Parallel Playwrights (45PP) will host the world premiere of Jenifer Kay Hood’s play, Bunny and Vincent, opening Friday, June 24, at 7 p.m., at Keizer Homegrown Theatre at the Keizer Cultural Center. The story follows the lifetime of poet Edna St.Vincent Millay and the tragic ending that is often unheard of. Performances continue on Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26.
Vincent was a renowned poet from the 1920s who wrote a number of poems across her lifespan and won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1923. In the spring of 1920 the introduction and budding romance began between Vincent and Edmund Wilson, known by his friends as Bunny, a writer, editor and critic for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.
Jenifer Kay Hood, the playwright, was first captivated by the artist in her high school library. The passion began to spread and Vincent was woven throughout Hood’s lifetime as she performed a one-woman show of Millay all over North America, and even met her living relatives. Hood’s Master’s thesis was on Edmund Wilson and how the state of his relationships with people dictated how well he reviewed their work. Hood was no stranger to Vincent or Bunny which is portrayed evidently in the show.
Hood started her original drafts of the play in 1997 and underwent many critiques and rewrites. Hood’s friend and working actor, Olivia Negron, found the original writings for the show read more like a film or television miniseries script and not a play which resulted in Hood working with two dramaturgists to help revise the show.
“My passion has always been literature,” Hood said. “I just thought I wanted to write, I wanted to make this into a play. After I got done writing the play it had to go through several iterations. It’s an emotional thing, a lot of people don’t realize what writing a play is as they evolve, they take on a life of their own.”
The show continued to evolve and now sits ready to be watched as the cast and crew have worked endlessly to bring Vincent to life. This will be the first time the show has been viewed by a live audience.
“She has never actually had actors saying her words, doing the blocking, so it’s all in her imagination and we are bringing her imagination to flesh and blood and concrete things,” director Franca Hernandez said about Hood’s dream coming to life.
The show follows a complicated romance of what could have been but never truly was and unravels tragedy showing the true rawness of what life looked like as Vincent struggled with her identity and sexuality. It is full of complex surprises and deep misunderstandings.
“All I knew about Edna St. Vincnet Millay was what I read in high school,” Herandez said. “This is not the Edna St. Vincent Millay that we read in high school. It will be totally new, it will be the raw real vision, the real truth. Jenifer is a scholar in this area so she is showing us the real life of the poet who had unfortunate circumstances which created a lot of stress, tension, and pain.”
Alongside the plot comes the cast who handle sensitive topics with care. The show is filled with heavier, darker concepts which brings a sense of reality to the show.
Anthony Redelsperger plays Bunny and shows the character’s charm, wit and adoration for Vincent. Claire Seaton brings Vincent to life as she reveals the truth of her substance abuse, tragic accidents, and bisexuality.
“Claire does a wonderful job,” Hood said about the main actress. “That opening—just watching Claire do Only Until This Cigarette Is Ended is just…it’s a beautiful play. When you see it you’ll fall in love with the characters.”
The show has a 15 minute intermission and the second act starts with the downfall of Vincent which reveals heart-wrenching scenes.
“Everyone on stage gets overwhelmed with emotions, it happens everytime,” Hernandez said about her favorite scene. We have heard it a million times and still when that moment comes when she is reciting that gorgeous poem, Bunny is totally overwhelmed by all the moments together.”
The cast is rounded out by David Duncan, Jim Kemp, Cassi McKenna, Sean Nickerson, Angelique O’Rourke, Shelley Stoye, and Lyndon Zaitz.
Bunny and Vincent will be performed at the Keizer Homegrown Theater located on the second floor of the Keizer Cultural Center at 980 Chemawa Rd NE. Although this event is free, guests need to bring proof of their COVID-19 vaccine and are asked to wear a mask to ensure the safety of the performers and audience members.
45th Parallel Playwrights is a group of local playwrights who have been together for three years.
Performances are at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, June 26.