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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Under Milk Wood
Reputed to be Thomas' attempt to write a Welch version of James Joyce's Ulyses, American audiences will also recognize the influence of Thornton Wilder's Our Town and, even more, Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. While intended to let the voices evoke the images of Thomas' velvety words, the more detailed and colorful canvas director Darko Tresjak and his talented design team have painted makes for a most satisfying revival. The more than two dozen actors not only speak the words with crystal clarity but reveal the morbidity beneath the appealing eccentricity and humor of the pastoral landscape. Interestingly, though the handsome staging opens the play up, it retains the sounds and flavor that were the hallmarks of once popular radio plays.
Alexander Dodge's painterly grassy knoll of a village revolves as slowly and surely as the hands of the clock moving through the day. The performances make Thomas' playful, richly alliterative stream of words bubble and transform the shadowy figures into close-up portraits of real people, rather than stock characters from an idealized travel brochure.
The cast is full of bravura turns, but what keeps everything and everyone centered are the two main voices, (Dana Ivey and D. B. Sweeney) the duo version of the Our Town stage manager, who only occasionally leave their positions at either side of the stage. Ms. Ivey, who seems incapable of giving anything but a superb performance, doesn't disappoint. Sweeney is a worthy co-narrator. The ensemble skillfully doubles up on the various characters. At the risk of overlooking some who should be mentioned, here are some who warrant an extra round of applause:
Off-stage marrieds Becky Ann Baker and Dylan Baker are hilariously well-matched as Mr. and Mrs. Cherry Owens -- she "lucky" enough to have two husbands, "one drunk, one sober", cheerfully hands the drink loving one the coin needed for a night of imbibing. Jay Goede, last seen on Broadway as Frog in A Year With Frog and Toad is equally delightful as Mog Edwards and Mr. Ogmore. Jack Willis gives a zestful rendition of Mr. Benyon, the butcher who takes pride in his bloody trade and the less flamboyant Mr.Waldo. Kristine Nielsen is a standout both as Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard and Mrs. Benyon. Charles Janasz is wonderfully droll as the Walter Mitty-like Mr. Pugh whose dreams of poisoning his sober spouse (Susan Blommaert) are given an edge by his brown-wrapped reading copy of The Poisoner's Book and the way he "poisons her with his eyes". Stephen Gabis as the minister, and Jarlath Conroy as Captain Cat are two of the other memorable characters.
The set's slow rotation echoes the leisurely pace the movement of the clock for the citizens of Llareggub. Yet it all comes full circle in just an hour and forty minutes without intermission.
Thomas lived just long enough to direct the 1951 trial performance of Under the Milkwood and read the part of the First Voice, as well as several other parts. After his death six months later (in New York), he was buried in Laugharnem, the village that inspired his last work, including Milkwood. Its endurance is best described by a quote attributed to him in the WTF program: "Only a great writer can give this absurd country, full of green fields, and chimney stacks, beauty and disease, the loveliness of the villages and the smoke-ridden horror of the towns its full value and recognition."
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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