Geraint Wyn Davies as Dylan Thomas in Do Not Go Gentle
A look at Dylan Thomas
One-man show with booze, bawds, and Shakespeare
By Jerry Tallmer
There is a little nondescript structure a tool shed or something of the sort at the corner of Spring Street and Hudson, one block east and a half-block north of the offices of The Villager. For about two recent weeks this little cube was plastered on all four sides with posters that merely said FUSE FUSE FUSE FUSE FUSE over and over again an ad for something, a movie or a rock group or I dont know what. Or care.
That coating has been replaced by another posterization now, but for those several weeks, every morning that I passed the FUSE FUSE FUSE FUSE FUSE, what swarmed into my head was one of the greatest lines of poetry in the English language, The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, an arrow of words and thought and feeling to rival that other chaps Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang, generally voted the greatest of all lines ever.
That son-of-a-bitch! He wrote it all!
Ole Will Shakespeare
Now theres a writer for you, the green fuse poet expostulates, in his cups, in Do Not Go Gentle, the stage portrait of Dylan Thomas concocted and directed by Leon Pownall and performed, solo, by Geraint Wyn Davies, Welshmen (by birth) both, at the Arclight Theater, on West 71st Street, down in the basement of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament.
It is a valuable evening. You get Dylan Thomas on the whole shell, in and around three key poems In my craft or sullen art, Do not go gentle into that dark night, The force that through the green fuse drives the flower plus snatches of other of his poems, plus extracts from the gorgeous, joyous dramatic prose of A Childs Christmas in Wales and A Visit to Grandpa, plus bits and pieces from the works of Ole Will, that prolific bastard whom Dylan Thomas so envied and worshipped.
Leon Pownall, who looks like Santa Claus, and Geraint Wyn Davies, who looks like one of King Arthurs somewhat weathered knights, were brooding over a couple of brews at Herlihys, on 72nd Street, just before showtime one day last week.
Pownall, the son of a steel-company executive whod served in the British Navy, was born in (he spelled it out) Tannavron, North Wales, came to in Canada in 1957, and has been a stalwart of theater as actor, director, writer since joining the Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival in 1964, his home base for most of the following 40 years.
Wyn Davies, who stems from Llawhaden, South Wales not far from Dylan Thomass Swansea is the son of a preacher father and a mother who was headmistress of Geraints first school.
And my aunt owned the pub, my uncle owned the chemists shop, my mum the teacher, my dad the preacher, another uncle owned the automobile dealership sounds just like Under Milk Wood.
Yes, the Welsh Mafia. And my cousin was mayor of Saint Clears, the town next to the village of Laughrne, where Dylan Thomas had the boathouse in which hed hide and write and leave Caitlin [his wife] stuck with the kids.
For Geraint Wyn Davies, the choice was the ministry or the theater. His family sent him to a boarding school in Toronto. He chose theater. You may have seen him not long ago as Edmund to Christopher Plummers Lear at Lincoln Center.
These days, Wys Davies and his wife Alana Guinn, a painter, live in Santa Barbara, California. Their daughter Pyper is a painter; their son Galen is about to take his sophomore year in Japan.
Me? Im the only pervert in my whole family, growls Leon Pownall. Or we could say black sheep. I live alone. I have two sons and a stepdaughter.
Wyn Davies and Pownall met as fellow actors at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1980. It was around the time when, Pownall says, another person of renown, Powys Thomas, an actor/teacher, no relation to Dylan Thomas, had said to me that every person has a one-man show in him, and suggested mine was Dylan Thomas. And I set about to write it, put it together.
It was tested in a few workshops and then Geraint, who is one of the best actors in North America, came into the picture. The fact that he is Welsh gave him insight into the material that others dont have.
For Wys Daviess part, a workshop of it at the Shaw Festival planted a seed, and when I was asked to do a benefit at an Atlantic Festival in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, I called Leon and asked: Whatever happened to that Dylan Thomas thing? And he said: I happen to have in my back pocket
Then when Leon came down to see the Lear at Lincoln Center last year, we said to one another: Lets do the Dylan Thomas thing.
They did it, one night, at the Arclight Theatre where it is at present. The performance went well, some producers were in attendance, and thats why were here now, exactly one year later.
Leon Pownall was not particularly fond of the poems of Dylan Thomas when the project started. I preferred his prose. He thinks better or the poems now, particularly of the three in the play.
Geraint Wys Davies, on the other hand, has always been hugely fond of Dylan Thomas, with the great advantage of being a Welshman away from Wales. And Im even more appreciative of Thomas now than then. My dad has a great Welsh voice, not given the succor of the bottle. This is an actors romp. A chance to play all the pipes on the organ. And so literate! So much of modern writing is anything but literate.
And remember, says Pownall, Dylan Thomas stunning speaker of his own poetry was the first performance artist. (My own heart stopped the first time I ever suddenly heard, perhaps on the radio, perhaps on a record, a voice like none other soaring up and out with: It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Neither man (nor I) ever saw Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) in person I wasnt born when he was alive, says Wys Davies but Pownall drew upon the first-hand recollections of Powys Thomas and others, including Caitlin, who did know the poet.
Sure, both Pownall and Wys Davies have been to the White Horse, the Greenwich Village tavern where Dylan Thomas hung out. But its very strange, says Pownall, to walk in and see those two television sets, those two cyber-eyes.
What most impresses both playwright and actor was Dylans ability to speak Dylanese to drink himself silly and go into a train of thoughts that seem to be disconnected but in fact are all connected, and could never later, sober, remember any of them. There is a good slice of that in Do Not Go Gentle.
Eight or 10 blocks south of the White Horse on Hudson Street is St. Lukes Chapel. It was there that I in my thirty-third year to heaven and his thirty-ninth went to say goodbye to Dylan Thomas. The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives his green age still.