American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, moved to Camden eight years later, attended Vassar College and came of jazz age in Greenwich Village. Ten years after leaving the Midcoast, she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; a couple of years later, she and her husband took up residence in Austerlitz, N.Y. Their home there, Steepletop, is a national historic landmark.

“Part of the reason for the tour is that a lot of places ‘claim’ Millay. We wanted to turn this into a Midcoast community celebration,” said David Troup, who is directing “Conversation at Midnight” for the Everyman Repertory Theatre.

Said tour began March 12 at Camden’s First Congregational Church, which Millay’s family attended 100 years ago. The tour ends in Waldo County with performances Friday, March 26 at the University of Maine’s Hutchinson Center on Route 3 in Belfast; and Saturday, March 27 at the Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts at 42 Depot St. Both start at 7 p.m.

Troup said he believes this is only the third time “Conversation at Midnight” has been staged. When it was published in 1937, the New York Times called it Millay’s “best and soundest book,” and book is perhaps a better term than play. Although the work is definitely meant to be read aloud, as something to stage, “Conversation” is a challenge.

“I think the last time it was done was in the 1970s; the New York Poets Theatre was asked to do it by the Millay Society, and they read it seated in a semi-circle,” Troup said.

Everyman wanted its production to have a bit more shape than that, but turning the weighty script, which features a mix of poetry forms in a far-ranging discussion among a group of men, into something an audience can experience as theater took some doing. Troup and other Everyman members cut some three dozen pages from the work, which originally ran more than three hours. Millay divided the “Conversation” into four parts, so figuring out how to break for intermission was another task. Finally, there had to be some kind of movement for visual interest, even if “Conversation at Midnight” really is just that.

“There are very challenging aspects to it,” said Troup. “The length, and the discontinuity – Millay puts specific pauses in to indicate change of thought.”

The director used body movements, freezes and times when some of the players are frozen in order to force focus on others to create visual analogs for the breaks in text. The set represents a Greenwich Village apartment with chairs, a couch, a hidden but well-used liquor stand, a piano and table lamps. The latter are important for more than period setting as the actors are reading their parts from small black notebooks throughout.

Moving and setting up this set at six different venues, however, is not a challenge from Troup’s perspective. A professional actor, he can look back to a four-year touring show that covered 380 miles and played a different school every day.

“We had a full proscenium set and you never knew what the space was like until you got there,” he said. “I was the stage manager as well as actor and had to re-stage it every morning.”

There is a musical interlude in the first part of “Conversation” when the character of Anselmo, a priest, plays a piece by Bach. Everyman was ready to transport a small keyboard instrument for the tour but, as it turned out, every venue, from Damariscotta’s Skidompha Library to the Unity College Centre, had a piano the production could use. Jennifer Hodgson, the only female actor in the all male character production, plays Anselmo in part because of her musical skill, creating a gentle pocket of reflection in the midst of the word slinging.

“At first, we had more women involved, but this really is a play about men – a woman’s take on male conversation,” Troup said. “We didn’t think it would confuse the audience too much to have a woman play the priest’s role; it works for that character.”

It is quite the bunch of guys Millay chooses for her “Conversation,” ranging in age, social and economic classes, political persuasion and basic approach to life. They toss back spirits, finger cigars and expound on everything from horse racing to God to women; as the evening wears on and the glasses are refilled, things get feisty at times. Humor leavens these moments as indeed it often does in such circumstances. And all of it is shaped and woven by Millay’s poetry, which sometimes pops out like a jeweled presentation and other times takes the listener by surprise in its natural falling into place.

“We’re fortunate; I think everyone in the cast has had some experience with verse,” said Troup, who plays one of the play’s seven men.

Troup said the “Conversation at Midnight” text is very challenging and the early rehearsals focused almost exclusively on the verse.

“It’s very complicated,” he said. “We’d be searching, where is the active verb in this line? It was a big thing to bring out the meaning while respecting the phrasing and the rhythm.”

That the cast succeeds in this task was evident during the tour’s first weekend performance at Rockland’s Farnsworth Art Museum. Millay broaches some serious pre-World War II issues, but there were a lot of laughs during the performance as the men wrestled and provoked and proclaimed and generally carried on as one might in such a setting.

“It’s been a lot to tackle but also a lot of fun,” said Troup.

Tickets for the final performances are $15 and can be reserved by calling 236-0173 or can be purchased online at everymanrep.org. Tickets also will be available at the door.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.