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Under Milk Wood

Dylan Thomas’ Words Clang in Tremont

By Masha Kamenetska

Under Milk Wood

Tremont Theatre

Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 5-29

Written by Dylan Thomas

Directed by Mitchell Sellers

Starring Robert Astyk, Elizabeth Jochum, Lindsay Joy

Located on the very outskirts of Boston’s Theater District, the Tremont Theater at 276 Tremont St. is a small performing space, providing a comfortable intimate atmosphere much like that of MIT’s Kresge Little Theater. The Tremont Theater, a cozy den where actors come within inches of their audience, is ideal for the staging of Dylan Thomas’s only play, Under Milk Wood. The performances will continue through Sept. 29 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., as well as at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with a special offer to MIT and Wellesley students: two tickets for the price of one.

Those who have read Dylan Thomas’ poetry know of the intensity of his work. The words of his poems conjure sensations, creating a vibrant atmosphere out of often grammatically incorrect arrangements of nouns, adjectives, verbs, and prepositions. The unforgettable rhythm, flow and sensuality of his poems have the power to overwhelm the reader with a coherent, swaying impression.

His last work, and only play, is no exception. Like his poetry, it relies to a large degree on the clang of its lines as well as the pictures evoked by its words to communicate its meaning. The plot of the work is in a way a reflection of this style. Like the somewhat chaotic structure of the language, the play jumps from character to character. The multitude of anecdotes interwoven in a masterful fashion, written in a lyrical, evocative language, creates an enduring portrayal of the place and the people Thomas envisioned.

Under Milk Wood was originally intended as a “play for voices,” not a piece for the stage. It is perhaps not surprising that the reverberation of the work is so instrumental in placing the audience in its rich realm. “Listen,” says the first narrator (Jeff Gill) as he introduces the little Welsh town by the sea called Llareggub. “It is Spring, moonless night/ starless and bible-black/ And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now/ Time passes. Listen/ Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night. Only you can see in the blinded bedrooms/ Only you can hear and see behind the eyes of the sleepers/ From where you are, you can hear their dreams.”

And as the audience listens and watches the cast of the Ablaze Theater Initiative bring Under Milk Wood to life, we come to know not just the dreams, but the follies, joys, and tragedies of the people of Llareggub as we follow them through the night, dawn, morning, afternoon and evening of one day. Mitchell Sellers and his nine-person ensemble do a great job of supplementing Thomas’ sensual, moving sounds with supple images to create a pervasive portrayal of this little town and its quirky, often ridiculous, but strangely familiar inhabitants.

The audience comes to know the blind, retired seacaptain, Captain Cat (Robert Astyk), and his travels upon the sea when his eyes were still blue. The memory of his long-lost lover Rosie Probert (Elizabeth Jochum) taunts him and flees as he calls for her, crying: “Come back!” Polly Garter (Lindsay Joy), who has slept with many a man, sings of the one Little Willy Weazel as she scrubs the floors of the Welfare Hall for the Mothers’ Union Dance that night. Children play in the streets, their mothers clicking their heals on the pavement and gossiping of the escapades of Polly Garter as they make their way to the shops.

Married couples, like Mr. and Mrs. Pugh (David Gross and Jenny Gutbezahl) live happily together, while Mr. Pugh secretly plans to poison his wife with weed killer. The audience hears of two happily separated lovers (Jayk Gallagher and Jessica Byrke), content to write each other daily lovesick letters, and of a drunken barkeep Sinbad Sailor (Michael O’Connor), who lusts after Gossomer Byenon (Jenny Gutbezahl), who is too proud to have him.

Beautifully spoken, acted, directed, and lit, this performance is truly an experience of the senses. The audience loses itself in the sounds, smells and sights of Llareggub, laughing and crying with its comical, yet all too real people.