There couldn't be a more logical subject for a one-person show than Dylan Thomas, legendary Welsh poet, playwright and guzzler; legendary, because a major flaw in his character destroyed him, the alcoholism which dogged him from 16 to his sad death at 39.
In "Dylan: A Bard's Eye View" at Actors Alley, Drew Tombrello, who wrote the piece and appears as Thomas, cleverly focuses his action on Thomas' second trip to the United States on the eve of his death. The time is established by a brief reading from his "Under Milk Wood," which he was finishing on his arrival. The centerpiece is a reading at New York University, a fine spotlight for the waste he was making of his life, with clues as to how it happened.
The material is well organized and, except for some extraneous baggage (muddling exposition scenes at Thomas' Boat House in Laughrane on the South Wales coast), is an effective charting of the writer's activity during his last year.
The problem with the evening is directorial (Tombrello and Anne Dauber are credited). Tombrello reads Thomas' work (and that of several other poets) with an appreciative feeling for the Welshman's plummy, lucid imagery, but with pure BBC delivery.
Thomas himself read beautifully but had the added advantage of a sense of poetic drama, induced to a great extent by his prodigious alcoholic consumption (some women thought his voice an aphrodisiac).
Scenes in a bar, in which the directors seem to be saying, "Now we'll show him drunk," conflict with logic when the poet leaves to deliver his reading with no trace of having imbibed. Thomas was never this sober in 1953. Tombrello correctly reads the flamboyance of Dylan's drunkenness in the bar. He simply doesn't carry it with him to the podium.
He also makes detail errors such as claiming Maurice Evans as a friend, then mispronouncing his name (Evans adamantly insisted on the English form, "Morris").
And Tombrello neglects the nasty little boy in Thomas' personality--the graffiti-loving delinquent who gave the village in "Under Milk Wood" a Welsh-sounding name that was an obscenity when read backward and caused his editors to change it after his death. It was part of his charm and shouldn't have been ignored.
Thomas' "delusions of adequacy" are mentioned but not dealt with, nor are his fears and dreams. Tombrello's touching reading of "Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London" and his poem to his dying father, "Do Not Go Gentle," are successful because the actor allows Thomas' state of mind to become part of the reading. It doesn't happen with the rest of the poetry. This is a respectful evening that just doesn't reverberate dramatically.
At 4334 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday mat., 2 p.m.; ends Saturday. Tickets: $13; (818) 986-2278.