Kenneth Welsh brings humour and sensitivity to Thomas’s rich script.
UNDER MILK WOOD by Dylan Thomas, directed by Ted Dykstra (Soulpepper, 55 Mill). To August 2. $5-$65. 416-866-8666. See Continuing, page 64. Rating: NNNN
Hard to imagine that one man can populate a town, but that's exactly what actor Kenneth Welsh does in Soulpepper's imaginative production of Under Milk Wood.
Dylan Thomas's poetic biography of the fictional Welsh town of Llareggub (spell it backwards) has dozens of characters, and Welsh does a fine job of giving them physical and verbal individuality under Ted Dykstra's direction.
What's especially pleasing about the production is the mix of playfulness, sensuality and touching emotion generated as we follow the characters through 24 hours. The show begins at nighttime, so we're privy to the dreams and fantasies of the various townsfolk, many of them sexual in nature.
Hard to pick out favourites here, but Reverend Eli Jenkins, self-defined town historian and would-be Poet Laureate, stands out, as do the lovers Mr. Edwards and Miss Price, whose amatory heat is all epistolary, and the discontented Pughs - she a domineering wife and he a cowed husband who fantasizes about various means of poisoning his spouse.
If anything, there's sometimes too much delineation of character; at times extended stage business distracts us from the work's characters and evocative poetry.
Under Milk Wood was originally intended to be a radio play, and Dykstra recalls that history by having foley artists Jenna Dalla Riva and Brooke Graeff off to the side providing sound and other effects - we can smell onions frying in a breakfast scene.
Dalla Riva and Graeff's work is as committed as Welsh's, and onstage musician Mike Ross adds an extra gloss to the production. Lorenzo Savoini's set has the feel of an attic stuffed with memorabilia that conjures up rich lives.
A portrait of a microcosmic community that in fact suggests the macrocosm of humanity, Under Milk Wood offers a parallel to Thornton Wilder's Our Town, the excellent Soulpepper production that opened the Young Centre.