Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
This is the only imperative "First Voice" issues in Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood," and it's one we'd do well to honor.
The brilliant MAPA production, which runs through the end of the weekend at Ka'ahumanu's Steppingstone Playhouse, offers up language that is beautiful, clever and heartbreaking in its reverence for the seemingly mundane moments we often forget to see.
There are many reasons everyone should see "Under Milk Wood" at least once, maybe even twice. Mark Collmer has assembled some of Maui's most seasoned, talented actors - Frank Kane, Paul Janes-Brown and Carolyn Wright to name just a few - and put them onstage with newcomers like Nancy Hamada, who shines as the sweetly materialistic Mafanwy Price. The result is nothing short of theatrical alchemy.
All 44 actors remain onstage for the duration of the show (with the exception of the venerable Sharyn Stone as "Second Voice," who drifts in and out) without dropping character, without checking out. This is no easy task, especially since they are each playing actors performing a radio show, which requires that they drop out of "half" their character at times. Sounds technical? It is.
Collmer's direction is nothing short of miraculous. This is a live-action production originally written for radio, a show about and for voices. Collmer manages to make it move, using the very limited stage space to create an undulation of activity mimicking the daily dance of tiny, briny Llareggub, Wales. The children dance, Polly Garter saunters sensuously, drunken Sinbad Sailors careens, young lovers kanoodle, Captain Cat rocks.
Kane is riveting as "First Voice." It's a mighty intimidating role, originally inhabited by the Welsh Bard himself, then popularized by Sir Richard Burton. From the moment Kane invites the audience to walk out from our stark, linear lives into the deep subconscious detritus of this strange but familiar Welsh village, we are held in his spell. Like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner with his "glitt'ring eye," Kane won't let us go until we attend to these common folk, not one of whom is "wholly good nor wholly bad."
Janes-Brown holds court as blind Captain Cat. He recognizes all of Llareggub by the sound of its footsteps when he's not haunted by the memories of his days at sea. One of the play's most touching and telling moments comes when Cat dreams of Rosie Probert, his long dead lost lover (enchantingly portrayed by Kristie Scott). As he recalls their lusty escapades, she tells him mournfully:
"Remember me. I am forgetting that I ever was."
This is really the point, after all. Thea Ramsay, as "Voice of a Tour Guide," informs the audience, "This small, decaying watering-place may, indeed, be called a 'backwater of life' without disrespect to its natives who possess, to this day, a salty individuality of their own."
"Under Milk Wood" captures a day in the life of a handful of otherwise unremarkable people in a rather unremarkable village on an otherwise unremarkable day on the craggy coast of Wales. It is Thomas' imaginative vision, Collmer's loving direction and Maui's talented actors combining to immortalize the sounds, songs and memories that linger long after the humble folk (neither wholly good nor wholly bad) who inspired this sublime work. It is Maui theater at its very best, a risky, intellectually challenging gift to the community and an homage to one of the English language's most gifted visionaries.
* Maui Academy of Performing Arts' "Under Milk Wood" runs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Steppingstone Playhouse at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Tickets, available by phone at 244-8760 or in person at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center's customer service kiosk, are $16 for adults and $12 for students and seniors.