Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Under Milk Wood
Under Milk Wood was the work that almost literally killed him. Commissioned as a radio play by the BBC, it took Thomas years to complete. After writing the first half, he stalled out, and under duress finished the script just minutes before its first performance in New York City in May 1953. He came back to the U.S. to appear in repeat performances in late October 1953, was very ill, but got an injection that allowed him to finish the scheduled performances. Then he drank heavily for the next few days, fell into a coma, and died on November 9, probably of pneumonia.
Except for a few poems like "Do not go gentle into that good night," I find that most of his poems sound great but are impenetrable. Awash in alliteration and assonance, they are wonderful to listen to, especially when recited with a Welsh accent, but their meaning, like so much 20th century poetry that equates obscurity with profundity, escapes me. Under Milk Wood is not like that.
This is a play about one day in the life of a small Welsh coastal village, from dawn till dusk. Essentially, it's gossip. The postman in the play knows what's inside every letter and package that he delivers, and we likewise find out what's going on inside the houses of the town and the minds of its inhabitants. The language is absolutely spectacularpoetic without being ostentatiously so. There are at least forty characters revealed to us in about ninety minutes of performing time. The amazing thing is that they are each distinct and so well drawn that we feel that we know them after a matter of a few seconds.
All of these characters are portrayed in this production by a total of ten actors. It's such an ensemble piece that I am just going to list the actors with very few comments: Lilyan Baggerly, Cheyenne E. Bilbrey, Josh Blanchard (very energetic but the only one in the cast who did not speak with a Welsh accent, which somewhat interrupted the flow of the piece), Russell Casados II (a fine actor with a perfect voice for Dylan Thomas), Alexandria Cuellar, Sydney Eubank, Andrea Gustke, Sebastien Moulton, Nathan A. Rimbert, and Katherine Robinson. Every one does really good work.
Kate Clarke, the director, has assembled not only a wonderful group of actors but also an exceptional design team, drawn partly from the department faculty. The set by Inseung Park is remarkably beautiful and the lighting by William Liotta is masterful. Costumes by Sophia Bernal and Tori Whisler and props by Katie Gallegos are just right. Kate Clarke did the sound design, too. I'm not sure what the static-like sounds that are heard for several minutes before the play begins are supposed to representmaybe the background dysphoric cacophony of the world, that a poetic imagination like Dylan Thomas's can transcend and turn into something rare and beautiful, like this play.
Under Milk Wood, through October 7, 2018, by the UNM Department of Theatre and Dance in the Experimental Theatre, in the UNM Center for the Arts on Central Avenue in Albuquerque NM. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00. Tickets are $10 to $15. Info at www.unmtickets.com or 505-925-5858.