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Minneapolis by Elizabeth Weir

The Jungle's Under Milkwood
charms audiences

Milkwood
Clockwise, left to right: Nick O’Donnell (seated), Ann Kellogg, Bain Boehlke, Allen Hamilton (seated with gray beard), Claudia Wilkens, Buffy Sedlachek, Bradley Greenwald
The Jungle Theater's cast of seven in Dylan Thomas' delightful Under Milkwood, A Play for Voices, amble on stage, admire the simple set's old-fashioned Christmas tree and chat amongst themselves, for all the world as though they are a group of friends who are putting on an impromptu reading in the local village hall. They settle into an arc of old chairs, one an antique bath chair on wheels, the lights dim and Bain Boehlke's resonant voice opens: "To begin at the beginning ... ," and, as though conjured into story, I enter the cobbled streets of Llareggub, a remote Welsh fishing village on a spring night and meet some 63 of its curious inhabitants.

In fractured sentences, long-drowned sailors call to blind Captain Cat in his dreams, their arms flowing like seaweed on the floor of the ocean, "tell my missus no I never ...," "... we shared the same girl, once ...," "I'm Jonah Jarvis, come to a bad end, very enjoyable."

Two narrators, Boehlke and Claudia Wilkins, wrap the story of a single day in Llaregubb around the characters. As Captain Cat, played by bearded Allen Hamilton, listens to the awakening town, the old man's finely tuned ear leads us into the busy day. We meet Myfanwy Price (comfortable Buffy Sedlachek), dressmaker and candy shop keeper, and Mr. Mog Edwards, draper (boater-hatted and bright-eyed Nick O'Donnell), who write passionate love letters to each other from the safety of their homes at opposite ends of town. "I will lie by your side," he promises, "like the Sunday roast."

There's disreputable Mr. Waldo (Bradley Greenwald), rabbit catcher, barber, herbalist, cat doctor and quack; super-particular Mrs. Pritchard (Ann Kellog) and her two brow-beaten, dead husbands (O'Donnel and Greenwald); young Gossamer Beynon (Kellog) full of spring yearning. Willy Nilly the postman (Boehlke) steams open the post and tells the recipients their news before they've read their letters, and Mrs. Willy Nilly (Wilkins) likes to be spanked. Mrs. Dai Bread One (Sedlachek) and Mrs. Dai Bread Two (Wilkins) share their husband and marital bed. Meek school teacher Mr. Pugh (O'Donnell) plans poison for judgmental Mrs. Pugh (Sedlachek). Most touching of all is generous Polly Garter (Wilkins). Polly will lie with any man who needs her love in busy Milkwood and has milky babies as regularly as the seasons. She loves big men, but in a heart-tugging song, she yearns for Willy Wee, who is dead.

The characters abound, and the versatile cast switch in an easy second from being children at play to being gossiping neighbors, an organist/undertaker/barman/dead prostitute/butcher/lay-about/preacher - you get the picture. Some use a scarf or hat as a prop, and all use inflection and body language to become their many selves.

Except for Greenwald, this cast has performed Milkwood before, and they meld together on stage, like - well, like villagers who have known each other all their lives. Some are looking older and rounder, but they can capture youth and folly in a heartbeat.

The cast provides the sound effects of ticking clocks, barking dogs, gulls and cow bells against the unobtrusive musical background of composer Roberta Carlson. This is a period piece and costume designer Amelia Cheever dresses them in the style of the '50s.

Thomas' characters breathe with startling originality; they are by turn saucy, sad and disarmingly funny. All are brushed with the magic of Thomas' gleaming language.

Anyone who has ever had a story read to them at bed time will be susceptible to Milkwood's charm, and a non-Christmassy, year-end show is as welcome as a fresh-baked Welsh cake. Under Milkwood November 19, 2004 - January 15, 2005. Wednesdays - Thursdays 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 p.m. Sundays 2:00 p.m. Tickets $20 - $30. The Jungle Theater, 2951, Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, Tickets: 651- 822-7063. www.jungletheater.com.

Photo: Ann Marsden



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Elizabeth Weir



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