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Dreams tell the tale in UNM’s ‘Under Milk Wood’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Captain Cat’s dreams torment him with the cries of his drowned shipmates. The schoolmaster dreams of poisoning his domineering wife.

Dylan Thomas’ “play for voices,” “Under Milk Wood,” unveils the dreams and days of the members of a small Welsh fishing village through the author’s lyrical language.

The University of New Mexico Department of Theatre and Dance will stage the Thomas classic at the Experimental Theatre beginning Friday, Sept. 28.

It all begins just before dawn. Winding through the town’s streets, we visit the sleeping residents in the darkness just before sunrise. Morning begins with the voice of a guide.

“It starts with their dreams,” director and assistant professor Kate Clarke said.

“It’s 100 percent about love,” she continued. “All the characters are in love with each other or in love with something. They call it a place of love.”

Church organist Organ Morgan is in love with his music. The postman steams open a love letter. The sweet-shop keeper dreams of marrying the draper. A cast of 10 student actors will portray between seven to nine characters.

“Vocally and physically, that’s a great acting challenge for a student,” Clarke said.

The director boasts a personal connection to the work, having acted in two productions of the play.

“Each of the characters is revealed through the play,” she said. “Not only is it beautiful, but it’s also very funny.”

The Welsh dialect can be especially demanding. Clarke told her students to watch the streaming Welsh detective series “Hinterland” over the summer, as well as the BBC romantic comedy “Gavin and Stacey.”

“We chose Swansea (in southern Wales) as the place of the dialect,” she said. “There are so many vocal styles and distinct physical lives for each character.”

“There are lots of ghosts,” she added.

The ghost of the blind sea captain’s lover surfaces in his dreams.

“She says, ‘Remember me. I’m forgetting the earth that filled my mouth’,” Clarke said.

“There’s a woman who has all these children by different fathers and she loves them all. Everybody in town treats her like she’s nothing because she wasn’t married.”

Originally commissioned by the BBC as a “radio drama” in 1954, “Under Milk Wood” has survived as one of the author’s best-known and highly acclaimed works. The 1974 film starred Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole.

One of the best-known British authors of the mid-20th century, Thomas is remembered for his highly original poetry, his tempestuous personal life and his abundant drinking.

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