‘Under Milk Wood’ oozes a troubled yet exuberant lust for life and love, much like Dylan Thomas himself. In these troubled days, full of vitriol and scorn for those who are different, it seems a welcome antidote to celebrate and embrace…being human….

      ~ Open First Artistic Director Martha Demson

      Kenia Romero and Claire Fazzolari in “Under Milk Wood” (Photo - Darrett Sanders).

      Kenia Romero and Claire Fazzolari in “Under Milk Wood” (Photo – Darrett Sanders).

      Like most people, I’m a little preoccupied with the death throes of my cheapest summertime movie entertainment option: Movie Pass. My friends and I bemoan the loss of air conditioned theaters daily for $10/month, less than the price of a single ticket in L.A. Well, fellow drama and comedy fans, here’s a treaty, affordable alternative: lyrical, charming “Under Milk Wood” at Atwater Village Theatre. The Open Fist Theatre Company production will set you back less than a regular movie and popcorn ($20), and its gorgeous language and deeply human portrayals will settle in your bones, resting there long after the latest action flick has faded from your mind.

      By Melanie Hooks

      This is one of those classics that many high school and college thespians cut their teeth on, and much like “The Music Man” or “Oliver!” rarely see a professional production due to the large cast size. Happily, Open Fist has managed to secure a fantastic group of performers and trusts them to charm us against a plain background on which we can project our own imaginary version of their Welsh seaside village Llaraggub (for those of who know Brit slang, check out that town name backwards).  In fact, Thomas wrote this masterpiece as a radio play, so its intent has always been lyrical, a soundstage for unique characters, from the songs of the town’s ‘favor lady’ to the sneer of the local scold and her husband, who reads aloud from a poisoning text. It’s the sort of town where the postman’s wife steams open everyone’s letters and the schoolteacher’s potential romance with the bartender keeps everyone’s tongues wagging.

      So many plays about small towns emphasize their claustrophobic elements and feature people active in their own repression, but Llaraggub stands out as a bastion of tolerance for even the wackiest locals: a bigamist living openly with his two wives (one for day, one for night), a preacher who sings nature poetry instead of giving sermons, men and women who reject monogamy for the easy pleasures of late night rolls in the woods, men who drink too much and women who’d rather clean and order around their dead husbands.

      TV occasionally brings us this version of small town life, e.g. “The Gilmore Girls” or “Hart of Dixie,” but primarily modern film only sets horror films there. Especially in our county of ten million souls, it feels revelatory to consider a life in which our neighbors not only know our every quirk but accept our every secret, whether they approve or not.

      Standout performances by Richard Abraham, Jennifer Kenyon, Bryan Robert Bertone, Cat Davis, Kenia Romero, Bruce A. Dickinson, Stephanie Crothers and Katherine Griffith shine because their fellow cast mates hold them confidently in a suspended state of imagination, where each actor takes on at least two, and sometimes up to five, roles.

      Paul Myrvold and Ensemble (Photo - Darrett Sanders).

      Paul Myrvold and Ensemble (Photo – Darrett Sanders).

      A successful “Milk Wood” production relies on cast connection as they must cast the spell of people who know each other under the skin, who wouldn’t be surprised by anything another did, no matter how outrageous, and the Open Fist Company embodies this admirably. Director Ben Martin must be credited for this extraordinary closeness, which must be encouraged in a such a successful ensemble. One gets the feeling that the people onstage have no boundaries between one another, and this translates to their connection with the audience, which is immediate, like theater in surround sound.

      The live music, staged seamlessly as the local organist by Tim Labor, adds an ongoing harmony to the cast of voices, which do occasionally sing, not as a musical show stopping number, but as we all do when alone, in our kitchens, when no one is watching.

      The effect is everyday, approachable, and thoroughly memorable theater.

      Bonus: the candy is $1. Take that, Movie Pass.

      Under Milk Wood
      • Written by Dylan Thomas
      • Directed by Ben Martin
      • Cast:
      Richard Abraham, Dillon Aurelio-Perata, Bryan Bertone, Christopher Cedeño, Stephanie Crothers, Cat Davis, Bruce A. Dickinson, Claire Fazzolari, Katherine Griffith, Jennifer Kenyon, Carol Kline, Tim Labor, Gina Manziello, Paul Myrvold, Neil Asa Oktay, Michael Philbrick, Katie May Porter, Kenia Romero, and Jade Santana.
      Open Fist Theatre Company
      Atwater Village Theatre
      3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039
      (Free parking in the Atwater Xing lot one block south of the theater)

      • Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7:00 pm, through August 25.
      $20 (also check goldstar.com and other discount sites)
      Purchase here.

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