Oct. 22 2008 12:00 AM

Collage of voices Riverwalk’s Under Milk Wood precise, profound


On any day, an assortment of loose associations and disconnected thoughts goes through our minds. Imagine what goes through the mind of a poet preoccupied by death, days after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The poet is Dylan Thomas, and his thoughts are the foundation for the epic poem “Under Milk Wood,” now at the Creole Gallery as part of Riverwalk Theatre’s Black Box series.

As Thomas meanders through the morning darkness of an small seaside town, he thinks about the simple, seamy lives of its residents.

To stage this theater of the mind, codirectors Judy Barber and Bob Gras recreate Thomas’ original format of a radio play for voices. Two rows of somber, black-clad actors — seven in all — sit behind charcoal black music stands and read Thomas’s musings.

Gras doubles as “First Voice,” or narrator, setting the standard for this production’s uniformly crisp, pure articulation. Thomas was Welsh, and all seven actors give quite reasonable renditions of archaic accents as they switch from persona to persona.

The poem is a curious, kaleidoscopic collage of quirky conversation, with no quick explanation of what is going on at first.

As our ears acclimate, we gradually get the gist of the poem: Ordinary life, in the context of the annihilation of two entire cities, becomes extraordinary.

Life is precious. Gras is joined in this ensemble piece by Linda Gras, Leann Dethlefsen, James W. Houska, Rick Dethlefsen, Brenda McKenzie and Joe Dickson.

Each actor is listed in the program simply as “performer,” yet each gets an opportunity to shine. Dickson does double duty, creating exquisite lighting and sound design as well. The play traffics in everyday life, but its underlying context invites serious reflection on the fragility of life and suddenness of death. The quality of this production evokes a similar appreciation for precision theater, and for a performance in which directors and actors rise to the occasion.

‘Under Milk Wood’

Theatre Black Box Through Oct. 26 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m.
Sunday Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St., Lansing $12 (517) 482-5700 www.riverwalktheatre.com