Only one word is needed to describe Nina Shen Rastogi’s ’02 production of “Dylan”: brilliant. But the play’s subject, neurotic poet Dylan Thomas, probably describes the play’s theme far more eloquently: “Do not go gentle into that good night/ Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Dylan Thomas’ frenzied battle against his own death and the stark intrusion of adult obligations into his carefree, man-child existence are presented with great sensitivity and elegance by a stellar cast and crew.
Rastogi uses Sidney Michaels’ play to the fullest advantage, allowing the sharp dialogue and her cast’s talent to speak for itself. Still, the complexity of the play’s subject is never far from her mind as she points out, “There are so many questions when you are dealing with a play about a true person. You have to remember that this is only Sidney Michaels’ version of Dylan Thomas.” Although it is hard to find the truth in what Rastogi eloquently refers to as “the myth of Dylan Thomas,” Thomas’ wife, Caitlin Thomas and his close friend John Malcolm Brinnin, have both written biographies about the life of the famous poet, and the play is broadly based on these recounts.
Bitingly witty and incredibly moving, Michaels’ play is an actor’s dream, and lead actor Blake Edwards ’02 is no exception. He heads a wonderful cast — most notably Natalia Payne ’03 who plays Thomas’ sharp-tongued wife, Caitlin. Edwards and Payne have excellent chemistry on stage, and their portrayal of the Thomas’ turbulent love-hate relationship is completely believable. Working with dialect coach Doug Honorof, both leads manage to pull off incredibly convincing Welsh accents, especially Payne, whose considerable talent makes it seem easy. The supporting cast is also first-rate with performances by Emily Guilmette ’03, Billy Schraufnagel ’03, Francesca Cecil ’04 and Jessie Wiener ’05. The star of the supporting cast is undoubtedly Richard Silverstein ’02, who plays the smooth-talking party boy Angus Marius to laudable perfection.
The crew, also, cannot escape praise. The production is flawless, which is due, in large part, to the superb direction of Rastogi and producer William Schleyer ’04. The set design by Andrew Sessa ’02, which originally seemed inappropriately sparse, was actually the perfect subtle backdrop for the aching poignancy of the play’s final act. The lovely period costumes by costume designer Caroline Duncan ’02, accurately recreated 1950s dress styles, yet it was ultimately the hair and makeup designer, Ramona Rose ’03, who finished the authentic look of the costumes. Finally, while the props mistress is usually the least-recognized person in the crew, the sheer number of props, including a bathtub complete with lukewarm water, prompts me to acknowledge Kelsey Lents ’05, whose wonderfully apt details added realism to Sessa’s minimalist set.
At the end of the play, Caitlin Thomas looks at the box containing her dead husband and says, “In 100 years, you’ll be the more famous of the two of us.” While this is true in a sense, the abject beauty of Thomas’ poetry, which is frequently interwoven into the play, suggests that Thomas may be one of the most overlooked poets of our time. As we hear Edwards read a stanza from one of Thomas’ earlier works, one can’t help but wonder, “Why haven’t I read this? Why haven’t I heard of this man before now?” While his famous poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” may be vaguely familiar to most of us, or even commonly studied in high school English classes, the fact is that now most people would not even recognize his name.
Still, his relative obscurity makes no difference to the immediate power of the play. As we watch Thomas analyze the deeper literary meaning of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in one scene, we realize not only that he was worthy of his tragically short-lived fame, but that he is more than deserving of the provocative play written in his memory.