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THEATER REVIEW : Speaking a Writer's Mind : Performers for the Interact Theatre Company bring to life the images of Dylan Thomas' languorous meditation, 'Under Milk Wood.'

March 12, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Robert Koehler writes regularly about theater for The Times.

Dylan Thomas' play for voices, "Under Milk Wood," is also a play for faces and bodies--which is why it still serves as an excellent workout for an ensemble.

The poet's languorous meditation on a day in the life of the Welsh coastal town of Llarregub isn't a daring choice, but a smart one for a group such as Interact Theatre Company getting its first full production off the ground.

The group's second smart choice, after reading and workshopping material for more than a year, was to occupy the long-vacant Theatre Exchange space, a room kind to the spoken word. Although Matthew C. Jacobs' harsh set of crates and a blandly painted wall backdrop of rolling hills is less kind as a support to Thomas' verbal fecundity, director James Gleason's 10 actors bring alive the set of the mind: the images of the salt sea, the rolling hills and homes soaked with beer and tears.

Interestingly, Jacobs' lights, ever-shifting with "Milk Wood's" constantly moving locales, help the actors much more. The moods flow with the town's distinct characters to suggest the turning pages of a large picture book.

This is also the theatrical equivalent of a landscape painting, in which the eye may scan the scene, or choose to focus on a spot, while never missing the full social context of a place almost lost in time.

Here in this corner is the singing Polly (a vibrant Susan Hull) or the silly, Bach-obsessed Mr. Organ Morgan (a droll Robert Clayton Black). Here are several frequently sad boys (all summoned forth by Steven Hack). Over here, stewing in their domestic juice, are Mr. and Mrs. Pugh (William Newman and Mary Carver, whose faces and voices superbly meld with the text).

The sexes battle, and sex dominates, even in the memory of the blind old salt (James Greene) who wants to "shipwreck into the thighs" of "the one true love in a life sardined with women." These are strong, hardy women, though, who share in the work--roles actresses Cecelia Riddett and Carol Mayo Jenkins specialize in nicely.

Narrators Gregory White and James McDonnell specialize more in keeping the show's pages turning, but like much of the cast, don't seem especially interested in speaking in Welsh accents. In fact, Gleason's actors sometimes slip into Irish --a sin against the Welsh. They're far more careful about finding distinct physical and vocal characteristics for each of their multiple roles. Above all, they help us smell the sea, feel the grass, follow the sun passing from night, to dawn, to afternoon, to dusk and, finally, to night again.

WHERE AND WHEN

* What: "Under Milk Wood"

* Location: Theatre Exchange, 11855 Hart St., North Hollywood

* Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through April 4.

* Price: $10

* Call: (818) 773-7862

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