The setting is a quaint Welsh village, not the Big Apple. And it’s written by Dylan Thomas, the greatest English poet of his time, not Larry David.
Otherwise, Under Milk Wood, the last Red Deer College Theatre Studies play of the season, can be thought of as a sort of Seinfeld.
“It’s really a show about nothing. There seems to be a lot going on and a lot of characters, but very little gets done,” said the production’s director, RDC instructor Tom Bradshaw, with a chuckle.
The most unique aspect of Under Milk Wood, which opens on Wednesday, April 15, at the Welikoklad Event Centre in downtown Red Deer, is its wonderful, poetic language. Bradshaw said that’s what initially attracted him to this script about the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of a small Welsh fishing village.
The fictional town, named Llareggub (‘Bugger all’ spelled backwards as Thomas’s little in-joke), also contains some memorably eccentric characters, who should present an interesting challenge for the 13 first-year actors to bring to the stage. Bradshaw said each student will take turns narrating the action, as well as playing multiple roles.
Among the good folks of Llareggub is Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, who’s still relentlessly nagging her two dead husbands, Mr. Willy Nilly the Postman who spreads local news and gossip, and music-obsessed church organist Organ Morgan.
There’s Mr. Dai Bread, the bigamist baker, who dreams of harems, and his wives Mrs. Dai Breads One and Two.
There’s Mae Rose Cottage, who is 17 and never been kissed, Mr. Pugh, who dreams of poisoning his nasty missus, and Mr. Mog Edwards, the lovelorn draper.
Edwards is enamoured of sweet-shopkeeper Myfanwy Price — who adores him too. But no one knows about their romance because it’s restricted to the love letters they write each other.
Other residents harbour unfulfilled fantasies, including Gossamer Benyon, the school teacher, who dreams of illicit love and longs to be with Sinbad Sailors.
Bradshaw believes this little Welsh village has a lot in common with small communities everywhere — its residents are wary of others knowing their business, lest they be judged or ridiculed.
“People will talk. … When you grow up in a small, rural place, you know everybody and you hear the gossip or rumours. In this case, you also get to hear what people are thinking,” he said.
Thomas, who died in 1953 at age 39 from his alcoholism, is best known for penning the poems Do not go gentle into that good night and And death shall have no dominion, as well as the book A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
The BBC commissioned a radio drama from Thomas at a time when he was interested in expanding into playwriting so he could reach a wider audience and augment his income.
Some of the ideas that formed Under Milk Wood go back to 1945, when the poet reportedly took an early morning walk into a sleepy Welsh town and verses came to mind about its inhabitants. Some of these ideas were worked into a short story, and eventually into a 1954 radio presentation about the fictional Llareggub.
The script was later turned into a 1972 film, starring Richard Burton as a narrator and Peter O’Toole playing Captain Cat, the old, blind sea captain who dreams of his lost lover Rosie Probert, who was portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor.
Bradshaw said his first-year RDC students have been learning all about Wales in preparation for the play, and are eagerly tackling the tricky Welsh accent. He describes the dialect as having the rolling Rs and broad Os of a Scottish accent, combined with the melodic quality of an Irish accent. “It’s really quite challenging, you can hear other British accents in it. …”
Since Thomas’s writing is the highlight of the play, Bradshaw said “the biggest challenge for the actors will be to grasp the language, the sounds and the cadence.”
As for the audience, he hopes theatregoers will sit back and enjoy the sounds of “something a little bit different.”
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. shows that run April 15 to 18 are $21.80 ($17.80 students/seniors) from the Black Knight Ticket Centre. (There’s a 1 p.m. matinee on April 18).