The Goddess of Murderous Rain (5m, 3w with 2m and 1w playing several roles) is a two-act play that takes place mostly in Greenwich Village with a unit set and minimal furniture—a porch swing DR, a door and a window R, a small sofa CR, table and chairs DL, a staircase C with a landing and window outside of which is a fire escape, a bed L, a full length oval mirror near the bed. As usual with Nigro plays, actors can enter and leave from “just about anywhere,” and there are no set changes, action moving fluidly without breaks. As the play begins (in 1950) Edmund Wilson, in a circle of light on the landing, tells us that Edna St. Vincent Millay is dead. He says he met her in the ‘20s, and we hear the faint sound of old music at a party as a variety of people come on stage, among them a young man called Bunny who will grow up to be Wilson. He is fascinated by a small red-haired, green-eyed girl who is curled up on the couch. The other actors leave the stage as we look at Bunny and Millay, Wilson on the landing describing how he had met her after the war thirty years ago when she was starring at the Provincetown Playhouse. Bunny tells her that she was quite good in the play he saw. He tells her how he came to be called Bunny; she asks if he is a virgin and invites him to sit on the couch with her. Edmund speaks of how he loved her, calling her the Goddess of Murderous Rain as the lights fade and come up on the office of the magazine Vanity Fair. Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley are training Bunny to replace them and he has brought Millay with him. Parker says she was fired and Bob (Benchley) resigned in protest but they have stayed on to train Bunny because they need the money. Parker points out a large pile of manuscripts and tells Bunny that after he logs the title, author, and date received in the record book he should throw the manuscripts out the window. Frank (the editor Crowninshield) shouts “CHARRRRRRRRRRRRGE!” as he runs across the stage carrying his screaming secretary, Miss Magillacuddy, over his shoulder. Parker explains that every day at 4pm they re-enact the ravishing of the Sabine women. She says that the only really interesting poetry she has read in years is a couple of things by Millay. Bunny says that Millay is here but Parker says she is too pretty to be that good and all the men will want to sleep with her. Frank and Magillacuddy run across the stage again, and Parker invites Millay (“Call me Vincent.”) to join her and Bob for drinks.
As Bunny sits on the swing DR, Edmund tells us that he saw Millay naked and got a lot of her work published in the magazine. He says she invited him to her mother’s house on Cape Cod, and we hear the sounds of gulls, ocean, and rain as Bunny talks to Millay in the house. They sit on the swing together and Millay says that a girl who loved her at Vassar called her the Goddess of Murderous Rain. He proposes marriage to her but she tells him a capacity for infidelity is the defining human characteristic and that she is an equal opportunity trollop, sleeping with everybody. They go in the house and Edmund says that he and Johnny (John Peale Bishop) partied with her the night before she sailed to France.
As Edmund watches, Millay, Bunny, and Johnny stumble through the door and eventually into bed. Millay manages to pull her dress off and Bunny gets his shirt stuck over his head. With the men offstage in the bathroom, Millay sees herself in the mirror frame, tries to take off her stockings, and careens into the bathroom shouting, “CHARRRRRRRRRRRRGE!” Edmund on the steps tells us that he scraped up money for a ticker to Paris but didn’t accept her invitation to join her on the Riviera. Months later, at night on MacDougal Street, they meet Gene O’Neill and the actress Mary Blair. Gene rails against critics, producers, and directors and staggers off followed by Blair.
Bunny and Millay talk about their lives and loves, Bunny saying that he is the best critic in the world but wants to be the creative artist he can never be. Millay speaks of her many lovers and an abortion and Blair runs back telling Bunny that he has to get Gene down from the tree where he is shouting lines from The Emperor Jones. Millay climbs the steps to the fire escape. Edmund says that at that point in her life when she was physically not well and emotionally vulnerable, she met the Dutchman, who appears at the window. He says he has been waiting for her to use up all the other men and suggests she come home with him. Lights fade on the first act.
Edmund is sitting on the porch swing, drinking, as the lights come up and Parker and Millay sit at the DR table (now Mother Gaboni’s restaurant in Boston, 1927). Edmund says Millay married the Dutchman because she needed to rest and be taken care of. She had won the Pulitzer Prize and then started getting involved in protest movements. She and other writers would meet at Gaboni’s for spaghetti and wine. Millay and Parker talk about being thrown in jail, the futility of political protest, and the stupidity of men. Parker says they would be happier as lesbians. Millay says she tried it but it didn’t work. Parker goes off to find food and Edmund tells us that Millay started travelling on reading tours while her husband stayed home. At one of her readings she met the poet George Dillon. We hear the sound of a ticking clock as Millay watches the Dutchman clean his gun. She tells him that she slept with George, is in love with him, and has invited him to stay in their house. The Dutchman says that he will stay and asks what George likes to eat, offering to prepare lamb. Edmund tells us the Dutchman greeted George like a long-lost brother.
George and the Dutchman appear at the top of the stairs. George says the house is beautiful and the trees are beautiful, and the Dutchman says his wife is beautiful. He asks George is he has a gun as Millay appears. The Dutchman says he will show George his big gun later and leaves. George is puzzled that the Dutchman doesn’t seem to mind his wife’s infidelity. Millay says if he doesn’t want to be there he should leave. She kisses him passionately as the Dutchman comes in with a tray of sandwiches and invites George to join him in hunting rabbits. After the Dutchman leaves, Millay explains to George that her husband is completely devoted to her and she to him. Then she says she is going to get completely naked and let George do whatever he wants to her, and if he is upset he should get some psychological counseling. She leaves and, after hesitating, George follows her.
As Edmund tells us that Millay had always played men against each other but that this time the stakes were much higher, the Dutchman and George sit on either side of Millay on the sofa. Millay tells how the Dutchman, in full evening dress, jumped into the Seine to rescue a drowning girl and revive her. She thinks he only prolonged the girl’s suffering. When Millay asks the Dutchman why he stays with her, he says it satisfies a deep need and that life has no reason or purpose beyond its own absurd continuation. When Millay says that George is taking her to Paris, the Dutchman says that Paris is lovely at this time of the year and leaves to lock the doors. George says he is not going to share Millay with her husband and she tells him that nothing lasts forever and she can always see the end of the affair from the beginning. George leaves and Edmund tells us that eventually they saw each other again and went to Paris with the Dutchman. Edmund says he married the actress Mary Blair but slept with other women. He says he wrote a novel featuring a character like Millay and sent it to her.
Millay joins Bunny and tells him that she thought his novel was good but that she hadn’t realized he was still angry with her. She says she needs something but doesn’t know what it is. She tells him to make love to her and then go away and not come back until he has written a novel that has nothing to do with her. When he says that could be a very long time, she says that time, like love, is an illusion. The light fades on them and Edmund says it was nineteen years before he saw her again. He says he married his first wife because she was pregnant and his second because he was lonely. As McCarthy appears and sits on the sofa with a book, he says he married her, a marriage made in Hell, and the man who was Bunny disappeared and turned into “the paunchy, bald, thin-skinned, brilliant, respected and feared critic, Edmund Wilson.”
He and McCarthy argue and she accuses him of still being in love with Millay, threatens to take him to court, and storms out. He tells us that Millay stayed married but drank more, injured her spine, and became addicted to morphine. We hear the sound of the ticking clock as Millay and the Dutchman talk in 1949. Millay says she is not a great poet and worries that people will write lies about her. Her husband suggests they invite Bunny to their place and goes out. Edmund says he was surprised to get the invitation and his fourth wife said they had to go. He says the Dutchman offered to take his wife on a tour so that he and Millay could be alone. We hear the ticking clock as Millay tells him that people are forgetting about her and she worries that her work isn’t really that good. She says that when she was young she could make anyone fall in love with her. She says she keeps dreaming about his second wife who fell down the steps and died. She tries to make Bunny promise not to write about her if she dies first. She touches his face and moves slowly up the stairs as he tells us that was the last time he saw her. Her husband died not long after and Millay spent the last months of her life alone. She was found dead at the foot of the staircase.
Millay at the top of the staircase speaks of poetry as a confusion of truth and riddles while Edmund at the table DL says that in his dream he sees her standing at the top of the staircase just before her fall. He says if he had been there he would have caught her, but that all we can do is love when we can and write until we die. He takes out a notebook and starts writing. Millay says there’s something lurking at the foot of the staircase. She looks toward the table where Edmund is scribbling and says, “The son of a bitch is writing my obituary.” The light on them fades and goes out.