Time passes. Listen.
Under Milk Wood - Directed by Matt Gray
Story by Joey Phoenix
The bright lights flood the room as the audience streams through the doorway, uncertain of the scene which lies before them. Salem Theatre Company’s Black Box on 90 Lafayette Street has been transformed into a 1950s pub, the broadcast site of a radio show that’s Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. The questions on everyone’s mind are: “Is this a rehearsal?” or “Why haven’t these people met before?” The answers aren’t immediately apparent, but that is the intent.
Written over the course of 20 years, the “play of words” started its days as a radio drama before being adapted for the stage. The meta-nature of the setup is jarring at first. The audience watches intently, incredulous that one of the actors is running late. Is he not taking his job seriously? Under Milk Wood is full of mysteries.
The last actor rushes in at the last moment, the on-air sign alights, and we have begun.
“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.” First voice rings out, the role played expertly by Isaiah Plovnick in his Salem Theatre Company debut. He continues to sweep the audience away with the melody of his voice throughout the remainder of the night.
The enchantment continues when Second Voice, the wonderful Laura Crook, steps in to add to the reverie. Her unfaltering energy adds to the present cadence, and reaches a crescendo in the character of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, whose commanding nature drives her two dead husbands to jump-nerved madness.
Other highlights of the evening include Mark O’Donald’s sniveling Mr. Pugh, whose penchant for dreaming up ways to poison his wife never fails to produce fits of chuckling in the audience, and Chris Martel’s dastardly Nogood Boyo, whose wily antics add comedic relief to the sea-salt swarthy nature of the bittersweet tale.
Yet, perhaps the crowning moment of the production should be reserved for the performance of Caroline Watson-Felt, whose Polly Garter interjects the reality of imperfect love into the mix with effortless beauty. When she sings, a hush falls over the room. She makes us believe the longing, the sense of deep loss that Polly and the people of Llarregyb so acutely feel. The sadness is theirs, but we’ve seen a glimpse into their hearts.
In this production of Under Milk Wood, Director Matt Gray has recreated the layered magic that Dylan Thomas envisioned. The coupled charm of long gone radio days juxtaposed with Welsh village life is a humanistic feast luscious in its complexity. The audience is swept undertow by the myriad voices of the characters who’ve called Milk Wood home. Salem Theatre Company’s Under Milk Wood is the best of the Beat Generation made accessible to the people of Salem, providing an apt metaphor for the significance of individual voices in the history of a region, and proving that places are nothing without the people who loved, lived, and dreamed there.
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