To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, a moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.
‘Under Milk Wood’
WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Feb 19-20
WHERE — Breedlove Auditorium at UA Fort Smith
COST — $6 for general public; free to UAFS students and staff
INFO — 788-7300 or tickets.uafs.edu
So begins Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood" -- a poetic comedy UAFS theater director Bob Stevenson calls "non-realistic" with its departure from following the narrative arc of a single character on his mythic hero journey. The play, instead, languidly chronicles a single day in a seaside town where 60 of the town's inhabitants -- portrayed by 26 actors -- offer a small glimpse into their lives.
"It's more about the ensemble experience," Stevenson says. "It's more about a pastiche of images and sounds and locations and characterizations. One of the things we keep saying about the play is nobody does anything. But it does have this sort of 'Our Town'-esque feeling where you take it all in as little bits and pieces of these lives, and it doesn't need to go anywhere because you're getting the picture one fragment at a time."
The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith production of the play opened Thursday and continues its run at Breedlove Auditorium Feb. 19-20. With the piece's emphasis on vocal work, challenging prose and intriguing pacing, Stevenson says "Under Milk Wood" benefits both the students and the Fort Smith audience.
"If we can't execute these plays that we obviously as a culture created for a reason -- because there was a need -- then we lose that little bit of culture," he insists. "So I think at the micro level, it's great for the individual student to make them more marketable and well-rounded. But at the macro level, it just helps us as a society and as a culture stay afloat and allows art to continue to do what it's doing.
"It's sort of our job, I think, as the educational endpoint in Fort Smith to make certain that we are providing that opportunity," Stevenson continues. "Now whether people take advantage of it, or even like it after they've seen it, is up to them. They don't have to like it, but I think it's important that the option is out there. Otherwise, we're kind of homogenizing ourselves to a degree that's probably unhealthy -- I think a little more diversity is good for everyone concerned."
But before you get too anxious, "Under Milk Wood" isn't so far out there -- it doesn't get into the strange, purposefully uncomfortable world of experimental theater. Stevenson describes the show as fantastic and charming. And though a viewer may see the word "poetic" and get a little nervous, Stevenson assures the writing and the prose are less structured -- perhaps less convoluted to some viewers -- than that of the most famous poet in theater: Shakespeare.
"You're going to understand the words in this play because it's all words that, maybe you don't use every day, but they're not that far from the words you use every day," Stevenson assures. "They're a little more imagistic, they're a little bigger words, [but] the grammar's not going to hide everything from you. I think the [challenge] we run into as performers is to make sure that when we're reading a line like 'the seesaw sea,' that we try to get across the image [Thomas is] trying to create of this storm-tossed ocean, and still play with the continuation of those sounds and make the audience feel like they can see it.
"You could almost watch this play with your eyes closed -- I think in some ways, it's almost designed that way. And our job as performers is to make certain we're selling those images to you."
NAN What's Up on 02/18/2018
Print Headline: Poetic Possibilities