In rumpled suit and shaggy haircut, lips clamped on a cigarette, fingers clutching a drink, Welsh thesp Geraint Wyn Davies channels the troubled spirit of his countryman, poet Dylan Thomas, who died an ignominious death at age 39 after collapsing outside a West Village bar on an otherwise triumphant American tour. Formless script for this one-man show skimps on bio details and advances few insights on the self-destructive forces that destroyed the great lyric poet. But it does provide a sturdy showcase for Thomas’ sublime writing and Davies’ superb technique. For this alone, poetry fans, language lovers and acting students should be grateful.
As originally written in 1982, this was a party piece for writer-director Leon Pownall, who performed it on Canadian stages until handing it off in 1986 to Davies. Under Pownall’s direction, Davies covered more Canadian venues and went on to play Chicago and California.
Here, in the hushed gloom of Mirror Rep’s church-basement quarters, the show feels intimate and a little eerie — quite the proper mood for a confession delivered from beyond the grave. As per scribe’s theatrical conceit, Thomas has been denied his heavenly rest until he can come to grips with the bad behavior and unfinished biz of his brief life. As he puts it: “I’m having a difficult time giving up the ghost.”
The limbo in which his soul wanders is an ordinary-looking study with a desk, stacks of books, and manuscript pages scattered all over the floor. Off to the side is a lectern where he interrupts his painful recollections with more formal poetry readings. Also to hand is a tray holding a drinking glass and bottles of whiskey — a much-used prop.
Looking like an unmade bed and flashing a sheepish grin, Davies takes Thomas through the ups and downs of his tempestuous life and career. When telling stories and enacting scenes from the poet’s childhood, thesp allows a lovely radiance to warm his face. “I love the child in me, I’ll never give him up,” he declares. “For when you see the babe, you see the future, and the future is forever.”
Trolling through the detritus of the poet’s wrecked life, Davies-as-Dylan flagellates himself for his self-destructive bouts of boozing and wenching, while bellowing for the fame and fortune that he craves. Thesp is convincing, even heart-wrenching, in both moods. But truth to tell, script doesn’t really go into depth about the demons that drove him so hard and left him so wasted. Too often, the bad-boy poet is allowed to get off the hook with a boyish grin and a line like “I am a bit of a show-off, you know.”
Davies is most impressive, though, in quieter moments at the lectern, delivering the sweet and solemn poems that are pure music to the ear. But even as thesp’s mellifluous tones caress the lyrical material, the craftsman is at work shaping the delivery in a perf that is a marvel of breath control and impeccable phrasing. Altogether, a mesmerizing performance.