Tag Archives: Dylan Thomas

The Dylan Thomas & Groucho Marx Meeting You Never Heard About

The Dylan Thomas and Groucho Marx Meeting You Never Heard About

 

It would have been in the fall of 1968.

It was a big night for little Roger.

I was a senior in high school and I was going to see the college theatre guys at the University of Kentucky do a play.

It was a student production of Dylan Thomas’ sublime UNDER MILKWOOD in the Laboratory Theatre (now the Briggs Theatre). I love Dylan Thomas’ work and I especially love THIS Dylan Thomas piece. It’s told in small town voices that resonate in all the world and in all times. Over the years I have discovered for myself several pieces that do similar services for us; Sherwood Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO, Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN, and Davis Grubbs’ profound and relevant THE VOICES OF GLORY. People talking about themselves…there’s nothing truer…even when they’re lying.

I’m sitting in the middle of the house. The lights dim. And isn’t that the moment?

Isn’t it??

Anything can happen!

Chances are very good that by the closing curtain, you will not be the same person as you were before the lights dimmed.

You will have been moved.

Perhaps an inch…perhaps a mile…

You will have been changed.

Perhaps into……?

I always hope so.

This particular night, I’m facing a darkened middle stage, framed by two lit podiums. The podiums are inhabited by two young actors who intone the opening narration.

The stage right actor reaches a crucial moment…

Wait!

If we could take a moment for a seemingly extraneous thought…

In his exquisite Carnegie Hall concert, Groucho Marx relates how he first got into show business. Please understand, I’m paraphrasing from memory.

“I needed a job. I read an ad in the paper that offered employment. You had to apply at an address near my home. I ran five blocks to a building and climbed six flights of stairs and knocked on the door. A guy answered wearing lipstick and high heels. I thought; ‘How long has this been going on?’”

…end of the seemingly extraneous thought.

Back to UNDER MILKWOOD…

The stage right actor reaches a crucial moment and says;

“We look in on the sleepy town of Milkwood as the dawn inches up…”

It doesn’t.

The actor hurls some serious “side-eye” to the middle of the stage but stammers on. He rambles through various unconnected bits of Dylan Thomas prose, giving the light crew a chance to awake. Finally ready to try again, he suggests;

“We look in on the sleepy town of Milkwood as the dawn inches up…”

Nope.

No joy.

No light.

Only despair etched in our young thespian’s countenance.

To his credit, he drones on. I catch snatches of Shakespeare, Pinter, Lewis Carroll (“The Walrus and the Carpenter” no less), and maybe a filthy limerick or two. Eventually, he closes his eyes and prays. Then the eyes open wide and he shouts;

“WelookinonthesleepytownofMilkwoodasthedawninchesup…”

BAM!

Lights up full!!!

The young actor staggers back under the luminous assault and in a clear state of relief.

The show goes on.

Man!

How long has this been going on?