Most theater majors graduating from college and beginning their professional careers end up relying on the kindness of strangers (i.e. producers, directors, and casting directors) to get themselves cast in a play, TV show, commercial, or movie. Then there are the talented Cal State Fullerton grads who have taken matters into their own hands by forming Coeurage Theatre Company.


Under the artistic direction of Jeremy Llelliott, a young stage and screen actor with a list of credits stretching back to his early childhood, Coeurage recently opened their fourth and fifth productions of their 2010 season—with more on the way. With a mission statement that promises “impassioned theatre accessible for all audiences through pay-what-you-want admission and fresh, challenging productions,” the talented actors, directors, and designers of CTC are clearly out to make a difference in Los Angeles Theater.

While Dylan Thomas’ 1954 radio play Under Milk Wood is not this reviewer’s cup of tea, it’s hard to imagine a better staging of Thomas’ “play for voices” than the one now being performed by the gifted young artists of Coeurage.


Under Milk Wood invites its audience to spend a night and day with three dozen or so of the residents of a fictional Welsh village called Llareggub. (That’s “bugger all” spelled backwards.) Nothing major happens over the course of those twenty-four hours, Thomas’ dialog is highly poetic in nature, and the townspeople are quirky in the extreme—three reasons why this reviewer doesn’t take to Thomas’ script.

On the other hand, Dylan Thomas fans, and more particularly those who love Under Milk Wood with a passion, will find themselves in Welsh heaven from the Coeurage Theatre Company production’s magical opening minutes to its lyrical fadeout ninety minutes later.


Credit director/Coeurage associate artistic director Ryan Wagner for turning a play originally written to be heard and not seen into an ever-changing visual feast. (Check out the production stills above and to the right.) Credit Michelle Stann’s exquisite lighting and sound designs and Gregory Nabours’ behind the scenes musical direction for aiding and abetting Wagner in achieving his vision.

A flawless septet of actors (Noah Gillett, Matthew Henerson, Aimee Karlin, Christopher Roque, Noel Salter, Sammi Smith, and Peter Weidman) bring Thomas’ characters to vivid life—among them a trouble-making drunk named Mr. Waldo; Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, who dreams nightly of her two dead husbands (Wagner allows the audience to see her smack dab between them in bed); Police Constable Attilla Rees, whose helmet serves a dual purpose whenever the constable needs to relieve himself late at night; Butcher Beynon, who sells owl’s meat, dogs’ eyes, and manchop to his wife’s dismay; and Gwennie Gwennie, whose side business (“Boys boys boys… Kiss Gwennie where she says or give her a penny”) stands to make her a pretty penny.


Not only do the company of actors create a half dozen or so distinctly different characters each, they do so in what sound to this reviewer to be spot-on Welsh accents—no Irish or Scottish brogues attempting to pass for the real thing here.

Musical director Nabours has set several sequences to music with his original compositions based on Welsh folk melodies. As a radio play, Under Milk Wood’s opening sequence is a two-plus page soliloquy spoken by the First Voice (Dylan Thomas himself in 1953 and Richard Burton in a later pair of BBC radio broadcasts). On stage, Wagner and Nabours turn Thomas’ words into a musical montage of lines sung and spoken by the entire cast, both individually and in unison, Karlin singing the lead melody gorgeously.


If I found the overall experience of Under Milk Wood less than compelling, chalk it up to a matter of personal preference and not a reflection on Wagner’s brilliantly imaginative direction and his cast’s superb performances. Those who favor prose over poetry and plot-driven narrative over slice-of-life vignettes may want to pass on Under Milk Wood. Dylan Thomas lovers, on the other hand, will be lapping up every drop of the Welsh poet’s words as brought to life with talent to spare by the exceptional young artists of Coeurage.

Coeurage Theatre Company, The Space Theatre, 665 N. Heliotrope Avenue, Los Angeles
–Steven Stanley
September 3, 2010

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