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Do Not Go Gentle

Geraint Wyn Davies keeps theatergoers rapt as Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. logo
Geraint Wyn Davies in Do Not Go Gentle
(© Peter James Zielinski)
It's meant as high praise to say that writer-director Leon Pownall's Do Not Go Gentle, now at the Clurman Theater, is less a play than a theatrical tone poem. It makes perfect sense, since poet Dylan Thomas is the subject here, and the title of the one-man show is taken from the Welshman's most famous poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," which contains the repeated phrase "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Rage, however, is only one of the emotions deeply plumbed in the 90-minute, two-act piece. That's not only because Geraint Wyn Davies, Thomas' accomplished stand-in, delivers several of the author's most renowned poems, such as "In My Craft or Sullen Art," not to mention a healthy helping of "A Child's Christmas in Wales." It's also because, like all reputable poetry, the language has been distilled into what can be called the essence of Thomas. Enough but no more is chiseled in to suggest much farther-reaching ramifications.

Wearing a lived-in outfit of the just-this-side-of-slovenly sort Thomas favored and standing on a stage where only a bulky lectern, a liquor-bottle-laden desk and sheets of paper scattered on the floor are featured, the actor easily ranges through light-hearted self-deprecation to a stunned obsession with William Shakespeare as his final touchstone to the self-satisfied womanizing and drinking that too often devolved into an alcoholic's shakes. Pownall and Davies collaborate seamlessly to sketch in Thomas' love-hate relationship to tough-minded wife Caitlin and his ultimately platonic affair with Pamela Hansford Johnson. They also don't shy away verbally or physically from depicting Thomas' randier inclinations.

Importantly, the 52-year-old Davies sufficiently resembles his subject and possesses Thomas' unexpected sex appeal. Davies' face may be less fleshy than Thomas' was towards the end of his short life. (He died just after passing his 39th birthday.) And he's not quite as portly as the man he's impersonating. Still, the actor has the general appearance down to play someone who confesses his poetry is concerned almost exclusively with childhood and death, allowing for no middle ground.

Pownall also includes Thomas' boasts that, although he was pointedly not taught to speak Welsh as a youngster, he played up the Welsh accent -- and Davies has the gorgeous, plummy-sounding voice to do the accent full justice. Indeed, Davies has ticket buyers rapt from the very beginning of this fine show to its satisfying end.


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