“Under Milk Wood” Proffers the Poetics of Life

“To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea….”


So opens Under Milk Wood, a play that chronicles 24 hours in the lives and dreams of the people of Llareggub, the small fictional fishing village as perceived through the poetical prism of the Welsh versifier Dylan Thomas.


Thomas originally conceived of the piece as a radio drama in which he would portray the “omniscient narrator,” who ranges over the township observing the strengths, foolishness, passions and woes of those dwelling there; not dispensing judgment on their fragilities or follies, but intoning a paean in celebration of their humanity.


Thomas loved to perform and possessed a lush brooding voice perfectly suited for the stage.  Alas, he might have had the soul of Hamlet, but it was imprisoned in the body of Falstaff.  For Thomas, painfully self conscious of his campanular figure, a radio production extended both the rostrum he relished and the concealment he craved.


The play opens on the dream worlds of the slumbering inhabitants.


The alcoholic Mr. Waldo (Bryan Bertone) dreams of his mother who has ruined him for all others of her sex.


The old, blind ship’s skipper Captain Cat (Bruce A. Dickinson), like Ulysses, dreams of shipmates lost to the sea.

Gina Manziello, Bruce A. Dickinson and “Under Milk Wood” Ensemble (Photo by Darrett Sanders)

Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard (Jennifer Kenyon) dreams of sharing her bed sheets in macabre ménage á trois with the phantoms of her two late husbands.


Thomas seems to imply throughout his play that it is the hidden self, the dream self, the self unfettered by earthly chainmail where we are our truest selves.  He carries us into in the morning as the townsfolk trudge and skip and press along through their day to day routines.


As is her habit, Mary Ann Sailors (Katherine Griffith) welcomes the morning by flinging open the shutters of her cottage and joyfully broadcasting her age to the town as a whole; “I’m 85 years, 3 months and a day!”


The postman Mr. Willy Nilly (Neil Asa Oktay) and his wife Mrs. Willy Nilly (Katie May Porter) prepare for the daily mail delivery by steaming open all the letters to read them and thus save the addressee the trouble.


The schoolmaster Mr. Pugh (Richard Abraham) peruses a volume entitled “Lives of the Great Poisoners,” for pointers on how to murder the shrewish Mrs. Pugh (Carol Kline).


Thomas parades half a hundred plus townspeople before us, so Director Ben Martin has called on his cast of nineteen to take on double and triple roles; Bertone proving himself the capable workhorse of the show with four roles to juggle.


I must admit it was strangely intoxicating to see a fully populated production with a near score of actors; and director Martin glides them over his stage with the natural elegance of a mist drifting on a meandering sea breeze.


His cast is a talented one overall – consisting of, other than those already mentioned, Stephanie Crothers, Jade Santana, Paul Myrvold, Gina Manziello, Kenia Romero, Michael Philbrick, Clair Fazzolari, Christopher Cedeño, Dillon Aurelio Perata and Tim Labor who, as the church organist Organ Morgan, also provided the production with an original composition.

Michael Philbrick, Stephanie Crothers and Bryan Bertone (Photo by Amanda Weier)

The poet brings his narrative full circle, having begun as the day dispels the night, he ends as night enshrouds the day. It is here that Thomas introduces the final character in his piece; Milk Wood itself, the forest that sits at the crown of the hill in whose shadow the town of Llareggub lies. ** writer's hand **   In classical literature it is the wilderness that holds what the society fears most in itself, and it is into this forest that Mr. Waldo (Bertone) and Polly Garter (Gina Manziello) enter as night falls to cloak their love making beneath the woodland’s branches.


In 1953 Dylan Thomas died in New York where he had come to perform Under Milk Wood for American audiences.  At 39 he left behind too thin a body of work.


The Open Fist Company and Martin have done Thomas well with their production, capturing the beauty of his verse and imbuing the script with a vitality of their own weaving. Indeed, they have infused Thomas’ play with their humanity, which conveys the dizzying complexity of the human existence.


As Dylan wrote, “Isn’t life a terrible thing – thank God!”

♦     ♦     ♦

** writer's hand ** The town’s name, “Llareggub” was typical Dylan.  Spell it backwards.


Under Milk Wood


on stage now through August 25, 2018

Presented by Open Fist Theatre Company,


Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039

(FREE parking in the Atwater Parking lot one block south of the theater)


For Schedule,  Tickets and Additional  Information:

(323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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