Welsh company to open HCC's Mainstage Series with 'Under Milk Wood' 'Play for voices' captures village HOWARD COUNTY DIVERSIONS

October 29, 1993|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

Plays described as plotless usually don't become classics. But Howard Community College has an exception to begin its 1993-94 Mainstage Series.

"Under Milk Wood," by Dylan Thomas, will be performed by the Sherman Theatre Company of Cardiff, Wales, today and tomorrow at the college's Smith Theatre.

Called "a play for voices," "Under Milk Wood" was completed a month before Thomas' death on Nov. 9, 1953, before a final revision.

"It plays very warm, very funny. It's a play about characters and capturing Welsh culture," said Kasi Campbell, general manager for the performing arts division of HCC.

"It was Dylan Thomas' most beloved work for the theater. It is the ultimate representation of the culture of that time," she said. "The play is a symbol of national pride for the Welsh people."

Ms. Campbell said that some of those purchasing tickets for this weekend's performances claim Welsh ancestry.

The play was influenced by a radio sketch by Thomas titled "Quite Early One Morning," first broadcast on the BBC Welsh service in 1944. "Under Milk Wood" was first broadcast in 1954 but not before the BBC edited the more bawdy lines.

"It was very risque for its time," said Ms. Campbell.

Thomas, who was born in Swansea, Wales, in 1914 -- but did not speak Welsh -- loved the culture and absorbed the small-town energy of Laugharne, where he is buried. Some say "Under Milk Wood" is based on that town, about 22 miles northwest of Swansea.

His goal for the play, which he called "an impression of voices," was for the audience to "come to know the town as an inhabitant of it."

The work covers a day in the life of a fictional Welsh fishing village, "Llareggub," and its quirky natives. It received critical acclaim despite its lack of standard elements of drama, such as conflict and resolution.

The fundamental drama of the play is in the character of the villagers.

One of them is the fastidious Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, widowed twice, who still orders her phantom husbands to perform cleaning chores. When Mr. Pritchard suggests opening a window to let the sun it, she cautions to "mind it wipes its shoes."

Vice and virtue are presented in the play without judgment. Some of the vices presented are gossip, drunkenness, lust and bigamy. The virtues include fidelity and love.

One of the characters, the Rev. Eli Jenkins, sums up his view of Llareggub in two stanzas of his sunset poem toward the end of the play:

And every evening at sun-down

I ask a blessing on the town,

For whether we last the night or no

I'm sure is always touch-and-go.

We are not wholly bad or good

Who live our lives under Milk Wood,

And Thou, I know, wilt be the first

To see our best side, not our worst.

One challenge of the play involves the 63 roles that are played by many fewer people. The first production involved only six people, including Thomas. The Sherman Theatre Company will use eight actors.

One of the actors, Jeff Diamond, is one of only two Welsh-speaking black actors in the United Kingdom.

The company has dropped the separate roles of the narrators with the lines read by the entire cast, who will also provide sound effects and choral support.

Ms. Campbell said that the closest American work to "Under Milk Wood" would be "Our Town," by Thornton Wilder, with its focus on a specific community.

"People who know 'Our Town' would be comfortable with 'Under Milk Wood.' It's very nostalgic," she said.

Ms. Campbell said that the play was added to the Mainstage Series because subscribers ask in surveys for classic drama.

" 'Under Milk Wood' is considered a classic. People who attend theater know 'Under Milk Wood,' " Ms. Campbell said.

"Under Milk Wood" will be presented at Howard Community College at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow at Smith Theatre. The theater is handicapped-accessible. Tickets are $10 and $13 with discounts for students, seniors and groups of six or more. Subscriptions for the Mainstage Series are available at $39 or $30. Information: 964-4900.

The Sherman Theatre Company will hold an actors workshop Saturday morning for HCC's Rising Stars, an actors studio for teen-agers in the county.

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