After director and theater professor Theophil Ross spent over six months adapting the voice-only play for live theater, Theatre Northwest performed Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood” Feb. 20-23.
This type of adaptation is sometimes called interpreter’s theatre, which Ross defined in the program as “an art form which takes literature not written for the stage and physicalizes it for a representational production before a live audience.” This style of theater leaves much up to the audience’s imagination and interpretation.
“It allows — or I’d say actually requires — that the audience get involved in the production; the audience fills in the blank,” Ross said. “We’re telling them things that are happening, and suggesting just minor action, a new odds, what they can be seeing, and then the audience sees the rest of it in their mind. And so it ends up being a slightly different experience for each person in the audience because we all see it differently.”
While many interpreter’s theatre productions are commonly performed with no set or costumes, Northwest Theatre incorporated a simplistic set and costumes to further identify characters.
There were about a dozen small booths or rooms, each with a couple different establishing props or decor items, separated by small half walls. They formed a circle with the characters facing toward the center. Many of the characters stayed within their respective settings for the entirety of the play, standing still and observing for much of it.
According to the program, the original playwright intended for the show to invite you to “come to know the town as an inhabitant.” It brings the audience into the lives of the characters in the village of Llareggub for one day. It began with their dreams. Stars were projected onto a thin curtain that hung above the stage, and actor’s faces would glow through the curtain to demonstrate their appearance in the dreams of the townsfolk below. The narrator described the thoughts and imaginary within their dreams.
It then transitioned into the day and finished with a return to the night, relying heavily on the actors’ voices and the narrator to fill in any gaps in the actions or atmosphere throughout.
“We sort of made everything possible, the whole town of Llareggub, come alive, in a sort of way that was never expected,” said Samir Sedky, a freshman who played Sinbad Sailor, a bartender in love with two women.
The audience was not only mentally transported to this village but was also physically only a couple feet away. Chairs surrounded all four sides of the show, with people sitting at the same level as the characters. Freshman Christina Short, who plays Lily Smalls, a maid dreaming of a more glamorous life, said having the audience so close in every direction was quite the adjustment.
“It was really weird and almost uncomfortable at first to be that close; you kind of feel exposed and like they can see you,” Short said. “It was difficult because I’ve never been used to trying to project so everyone around me, behind me, can hear me instead of just in front of me.”
The original play featured 69 characters, with actors often playing multiple parts. Northwest’s edition featured 37 characters, with each actor playing one role, which is still a much larger cast size than usual for Theatre Northwest. Ross chose a production with a large cast size to provide the opportunity for many students to get involved, especially those who may not be musically inclined and therefore may not be involved in Theatre Northwest’s upcoming biggest show of the semester, “Into the Woods.”