Arts & Events

Review: Under Milk Wood at the Library

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Tuesday December 21, 2010 - 10:27:00 PM

Once again, the Berkeley Main Public Library is due lavish praise for the many excellent programs it offers its patrons week after week. Debbie Carton, Librarian and Head of the Art and Music Department deserves much credit for these stimulating programs. Her "Playreading for Adults" is a popular, ever expanding class meeting each Wednesday from 12 noon to 1 p.m. for a reading of plays which are acted out by members of the class. But this past Tuesday evening, Debbie outdid herself with an unforgettable production of Dylan Thomas' play, "Under Milk Wood". Thirteen adult members and five children of the play reading group sat at long tables and did a staged reading of this classic play for voices, beautifully directed by Libby Vega. 

"Under Milk Wood" is a 1954 play for radio by Dylan Thomas, later adapted for the stage. When Thomas was staying in New Quay, Wales one winter, he went out early one morning into the still sleeping town, Llareggub, and verses came to his mind about the inhabitants. He wrote the account of this as "Quite Early One Morning," recorded for BBC Wales on December 14, 1944. An all-seeing narrator invites the audience to listen to the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of an imaginary small Welsh village. His characters include Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, relentlessly bossing her two dead husbands; Captain Cap, reliving his seafaring times; Organ Morgan, obsessed with his music; and Polly Garter, pining for her dead lover. Later, the town wakes and, aware now of how their feelings affect whatever they do, we watch them go about their daily business. The fictional name Llareggub resembles other Welsh place names, which often begin with "Lian" meaning church. Writing to his wife, Caitlin, in 1953, Thomas remarked, "I've finished that infernally, eternally unfinished Play and have done it in New York with actors." He is reported to have commented that "Under Milk Wood" was developed in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, as a way of reasserting the evidence of beauty in the world. 

The 1972 film adaptation, with Richard Burton reprising his role, also featured Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O'Toole, Glynis Johns and other well-known actors; in 1988 Anthony Hopkins also played a role. 

Needless to say, Thomas' play has wonderful characters, all of which were sensitively portrayed by the Playreading actors performing dual roles -- i.e., Organ Morgan, Mr. & Mrs. Willy Nilly, Bessie Bighead and Gossamer Beynon. The appreciative audience who braved wind and rain to view this ambitious program Tuesday evening all agreed that it was a remarkably professional production, theatre at its absolute finest. Courtesy of the Berkeley Public Library, we should add.