Do Not Go Gentle
nytheatre.com review by Rachel Grundy
December 3, 2009
An evening of wordplay, humor, pathos, and drink awaits those with the literary stamina to see Do Not Go Gentle at the Clurman Theatre on Theater Row. This show combines the incredible poetics of Dylan Thomas's most famous works with exquisitely written accompanying monologue, and some Shakespeare thrown in for good measure. This enthralling show will take you on a journey through Thomas's life in a fantastical exploration of the complexity and rich variety of the English language.
As the play begins, we see that purgatory (the setting of the play) for Dylan Thomas is a study. A desk with several full whisky bottles ready for drinking, papers strewn all over the floor, and a lectern for giving readings are all that occupy the stage. Jill Nagle's sublime lighting does incredible things with a simple set; her subtle cues change the tone and mood instantly, to reflect the unpredictable mood of the character and his abrupt changes of subject. Thomas himself, played by the brilliant Geraint Wyn Davies, is portrayed as a conflicted, troubled, happy, depressed man—at once changing from introspective and wistful, when telling a story about his childhood, to someone shaking with rage and alcoholism, unable to control his emotions or his body. Davies controls the stage and the audience's attention impressively. He uses the melody of his Welsh accent as a tool, punctuating sentences with a roll of an "r" and playing it up or down when the story (or character) demands. As Thomas was lauded for his readings of his own poetry, as well as Shakespeare, the play is punctuated with Davies (as Thomas) reading some of his most famous poems, including the eponymous "Do Not Go Gentle," along with many famous Shakespeare quotes.
Using some of the most famous writing in the English language within an original piece is both dangerous and ambitious. The writer runs the risk of having his own work pale in comparison to the Bard or to Thomas's lyrical style, and there being a stark difference in the quality of the show. However, Leon Pownall (author and director) lives up to the challenge and gives Davies an incredible script to perform, one that moves from the sublimely lyrical to the sublimely profane in a matter of a sentence. I'm not sure if the asides to the audience while Davies is making some crude hand gestures to demonstrate his love of masturbation are improvised or scripted, but they are very funny and wonderfully expressive. Pownall's script and staging give the play a strong structure, something that a one-man show featuring a guy reminiscing about his life in purgatory is at risk of missing. There is not a linear plot or progression of the character, but an image of Dylan Thomas is drawn by the end of the show that is an evocative portrait of a fascinating, complicated man.
[Editor's Note: Pownall died in 2006; his staging is realized for this production by Dean Gabourie.]