“Under Milk Wood”: Listen Up!

Under Milk Wood
Caffeine Theatre at the
Storefront Theatre
Chicago, Illinois
September 3, 2009

Husband plotting his wife’s murder, blind sea captain reminiscing with his favorite whore ghost, dead woman henpecking both of her dead husbands, Under Milk Wood is a story of the quirky residents, living and dead, of a small Welsh town. It’s Northern Exposure without the snow. Town gossip navigates you through a “day in the life of” of Llareggub (backwards spells “bugger all”).

Magnificent ensemble cast, truly an “ensemble” performing in anonymity. The program lists all the actors but without headshots or assigned parts. Each actor is listed just as a “voice.” Other than saying things like; “the red head that looked like a cheerful version of Maggie Gyllenhaal” or “the girl with the good singing voice” or “the old guy” or “the other old guy,” I was forced to consider the cast only collectively. Nine actors effectively transform into 47 different characters (I didn’t count them but that’s how the show is promoted) with minimal props. It’s the Clark Kent – Superman thing but better. Already speaking with a Welsh accent, the actor tweaks the dialect a hint puts on glasses and “voila” transforms from a whore to uptight shrew. I’ve seen it done off stage but never with accents and always with a chaser.

Under Milk Wood was entertaining! The cast guides you through a maze of dreams and desires as shopkeepers, school kids and even cows (and a cute puppy). FASCINATING! There were a few speed bumps for me. Author Dylan Thomas wrote it originally as a radio play in the early 1950’s. (He died before its first production after drinking 18 whiskeys, becoming #48 of his quirky characters.) It’s very auditory, leading to some confusion initially, especially when combined with accents and a seussical-kind of language: Morgan Organ and Big-headed Bessie. My recommendation either see it more than once or Wikipedia it to get the plethora of characters straight. I’m torn. Let me know what you decide.

The voice to my right, Bill, gave the show these descriptors: cast great, Shakespearean prose and quick-paced.


Feeling adventurous, I tried the vegan option at Ecalpym before the show. It was a pretty tasty grilled vegetable pizza. Of course, I insisted on the addition of cheese which made all the difference. Vegans really should loosen up on the no cheese commandment. They are so missing out. I don’t go to Ecalpym for the food… I’ve certainly had better. I go for the view of the lake and the ability to get in and out, in time to make a 7:30 curtain.

Petterino’s (150 N. Dearborn) is absolutely THE perfect place for an after show drink. The bar is adorned with sketches of actor caricatures and stage playbills. It’s Chicago’s theatre archives in a bar that can be both cozy and contemporary. Even at the peak of a bustling theatre season surrounded by cocktail chatter, you can still enjoy an intimate drink with a friend. (Unless that friend is Bill, whose wine spilling incident breaks the tranquility.) Former dentist (probably with glasses) turned bartender, Eddie transforms a loud bar into a neighborhood pub. Warmly greeting guests and securing them a seat in a seemingly packed establishment, Eddie is one of the best bartenders in our quirky little city. He pours the wine, shares the latest theater gossip and when necessary mops up after the town drunk.


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