Under Milkwood

Under Milk Wood
by Dylan Thomas
a kate west review
directed by Ellen Geer
at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum,
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga 90290
July 10 –
October 9, 2004; Contact (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com

Dylan Thomas, the famously tortured Welsh poet, first published “Under Milk Wood” in the early 1950’s. Written specifically for radio, this lyrically beautiful piece has thrilled audiences for decades. The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum does a nice job of showcasing this audio tradition, set in their wonderful wood background out in the
Topanga Canyon hills.

Depicting many diverse characters in a quintessential small town, “Under Milk Wood” is a play about the every person, our loves and lives, faults and nobility. Richard Gould is the First Narrator (mainly the voice of Dylan Thomas himself) and Katherine Griffith aids him as Second Narrator, both of them begin on book, reading from a binder which is admittedly a bit disconcerting. Griffith jumps into various character roles and Gould remains the main narrator as the story unfolds, still reading from the script. It may have been better had they both memorized their lines; however, it is not too troublesome as Gould has a nice storytelling voice and the audience seems receptive to being read to.

There is also a plethora of appealingly fascinating characters from Paul Schrier’s blind Captain Cat, remembering fallen sailors and listening to the life sounds of the town to Melora Marshall’s Polly Garter singing wistfully of her lost love, Willie Wee. A special delight is Ted Barton, who plays the popular Butcher Benyon and the timid Mr. Pugh, dreaming gleefully every night of poisoning his shrewish wife Mrs. Pugh (the stern Gillian Doyle).Lulled by the sing-song poetry of Dylan Thomas and the warm afternoon sun, the audience is transported to a pleasant microcosm of the nature of the human character.

Director Ellen Geer weaves the actors on and off stage in keeping with Thomas’s gentle weaving of plot and character. The cast is strong and seem to enjoy reciting the well-known text. Aaron Hendry is a versatile Revered Eli Jenkins and No Good Boyo, Elizabeth George alternates between Mrs. Pritchard and oddball Mrs. Organ Morgan, playing to her equally odd husband, Mr. Organ Morgan (David Stifel – also Mr. Ogmore), who has no room in his life for anything but organ music.

At times it is rather difficult to keep track of all the characters and plot lines but it is always enjoyable to watch the actors blend into various stories, sometimes even turning into a group of taunting children. The recitation of the language alone is worth the price of admission. The entire ensemble works very well together – it can certainly be no easy feat to recreate this marvelous piece of literature. An added special treat is a rendition of a Dylan Thomas poem by a troupe of rosy-cheeked Welsh singers during the pre-show.

So if you are up to tackling something more artistically meaningful than the latest reality show, then make the trek up to the Topanga hills and pack a lunch. Perhaps you can even make a trip to Malibu afterwards. It is sure to be a beautiful afternoon.

Under Milkwood

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