Saturday, March 15, 2008

UNDER MILK WOOD by Dylan Thomas

The Book: Dylan Thomas, UNDER MILK WOOD. Photocopied script in black three-ringed binder, highlighted and marked with pencil.
First read: 2008
Owned since: 2008

In the home stretch of my current bout of over-commitment: tonight was the first of two staged readings of Under Milk Wood, one of the two shows I'm doing this month. The second performance is tomorrow afternoon at 2:00, at Johnson Hall in downtown Gardiner. Come see us if you're in the area, and if you have a spare $4 million, consider donating it to the Johnson Hall restoration fund.

I auditioned for this show in part because I'd never read the play, which was originally produced for radio. A friend of mine, when I told him I was doing Under Milk Wood, groaned and said, "Ugh -- deadly." But I think it's one of those pieces, like James Joyce's Ulysses, that needs to be read aloud.

Under Milk Wood is the story of one day in the life of the Welsh town of Llareggub (yes, that's "bugger all" backwards). It is springtime in Llareggub, and Under Milk Wood gives us stories of romance fresh and sour, old and new, conventional and bizarre. Among my roles is Mrs. Dai Bread Two, the second wife of the town baker, taken even though Mrs. Dai Bread One is still around (and sharing the marital bed). Another of my roles, Mary Ann Sailors, is 85 years, three months and one day old, and thanks the Lord every day for the routine blessings of porridge and sunshine.

The play is funny, bawdy, angry and sad, the work of a man who loved his homeland as much as he hated it, who was ashamed of it even while he was angry at the feeling that he'd never belong. Who doesn't feel that way about their hometown?

In the end, it's hard not to hear the Reverend Eli Jenkins's sundown benediction as Thomas's own:

Every morning, when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please to keep Thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die.

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.

O let us see another day!
Bless us this holy night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say, goodbye - but just for now!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm embarrassed to say I've never read Under Milk Wood -- or if I have, I've forgotten. But I like the excerpt you included. So much so, I'm posting it on my family's blog. Hope you don't mind the pilfering.