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LA Theater Review

Under Milk Wood

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At times it seems director Ryan Wagner has gilded Dylan Thomas' considerable lilies. In the opening passages describing the dawn awakening of the little Welsh village of Llareggub, the music blares over Thomas' poetry, itself possessed of musicality and meriting the audience's full concentration. At times Wagner seems to have encouraged the actors to gloss over the poetry, as the saucy double-entendres—mild in the new millennium—are ignored.

But the casting is lovely, and much of the staging is elegant and burnishes the storytelling. Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, lying under her "virtuous polar sheets" with the ghosts of her husbands, is shown to us as if from above, the actors peeping over a sheet, her head "resting" on a flouncy pillow. When Mr. Waldo sings the final song in his corner of the Sailors Arms, the mood is one of a friendly crowded bar. The taunting of children turns hilariously nightmarish as the schoolmates follow the beleaguered child home. Behind the backs of separated lovers Mog and Myfanwy, the postman and his wife mockingly enact the lovers' epistolary communiqué.
 
Among the actors, there's not a clinker. Each is funny and creative and precise and most of all capable of infusing the specialized language with comedy and lyricism and truth. One comedic standout is Noel Salter, going from Bessie Bighead's greeting of the cows to the antiseptic Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard. Another is Christopher Roque, going from aspiring murderer Mr. Pugh to the florid organist Organ Morgan. Handsome Noah Gillett effectively turns Reverend Eli into a bookworm. The pretty Aimee Karlin becomes a flirty Mrs. Dai Bread Two, then turns Polly Garter into a tragic heroine. Sammi Smith pertly creates the aged Mary Ann Sailors and the chatty Lily Smalls. Peter Weidman is the consumed-by-time Lord Cut-Glass and the butcher of dubious ethics Mr. Benyon. The hauntingly effective Matthew Henerson chisels the blind old Captain Cat.
 
In an act of trust and commitment, Wagner asks his actors to speak with Welsh accents, to fairly solid effect judged by an American ear. And, sure, place names are pronounced in varied ways, but even the British are often guilty of that. His choice to keep the actors barefoot throughout gives the performances a very cozy, very welcoming feel.
 
Presented by Coeurage Theatre Company at the Space Theatre, 665 N. Heliotrope Drive, L.A. Aug. 28–Sept. 11. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m. www.coeuragetheatre.com/rsvp.

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