For the man who "raged, raged against the dying of the light," whose recorded voice can still be heard pronouncing his own works in dolorous tones, this play by Sidney Michaels is a fascinating if incomplete cameo of Dylan Thomas' (Kevin Kearns) final years. Ably staged by Barry Lynch, who played the title role 20 years ago in the Center's inaugural production, it juxtaposes the beauty and lyricism of Thomas with his squalid decline and death at 39 of alcoholism.
Credited by biographers with a tumultuous marriage and "fatal dependence" on his wife, Caitlin (Karen Ryan), he nonetheless embarked from Wales on several American tours hoping to gain the wealth and fame that eluded him at home. Though his intentions were to provide for his wife and children, his womanizing and squandering the money he earned only accelerated his downfall.
Kearns sensitively captures the terrible melancholy of Thomas' life. Recitations of Thomas' poetry in reflective moments bring the finer elements of his work to light. At the same time, Kearns depicts the crippling insecurity that dogged Thomas and contributed to his chaotic life with his wife. Effectively somber scenes with Ryan are at once fiery, witty, and passionate.
Michaels' script includes other characters who propped Thomas up: biographer John Malcolm Brinnin (Robin Leabman), who was responsible for his reading tours in the U.S.; Meg Stuart (Jennifer Ruckman), his mistress, who encouraged him to write plays and other works beyond poetry; and assorted patrons and sycophants who followed his unsteady progress. Though they add color to the story, the play belongs to Kearns, and Lynch makes the most of his charisma.
Dan Conroy's set, though clever and suitably spare, requires many blackout changes and disengages the emotional investment of the audience. Sound by Reid Woodbury Jr. delivers mood-enhancing variety. Lighting by Peter Strauss easily creates dark and evocative moments throughout.
At play's end the dominant impression is of Thomas' tragic failed opportunities, but A Child's Christmas in Wales and Under Milk Wood belie the notion that his muse was always despondent. A better balance between his humor and failings might have created a fairer picture of this acclaimed wordsmith.