Under Milk Wood: Our Dreaming and Waking Selves
Over the weekend my wife and I had the chance to see the Soulpepper Theatre production of Under Milk Wood, the Dylan Thomas work originally performed as a one-person monologue by the Welsh poet himself. Many other versions of Under Milk Wood have used a large cast, with different actors playing the various characters, but in this version director Ted Dykstra and actor Kenneth Welsh go back to Thomas’ original idea of a monologue. It’s an extremely energetic and demanding 85 minute performance for Welsh, but the result is an entrancing immersion in a small Welsh town and a deeply empathic, frank and often humorous engagement with the unique character of each of the inhabitants. I found myself completely enthralled and drawn in by Mr. Welsh’s performance as this version of Under Milk Wood unfolded.
One of the remarkable things about Under Milk Wood is the way in which we first encounter the inhabitants of “Llareggub” in their sleeping and dreaming at night, and then later encounter them as they go about their daily lives in the village. In the contrast between these two perspectives, we learn a lot about them, and we see their daylight activities in a much more understandable and compassionate light.
If we could know the dream lives and more generally the unconscious lives of the people we encounter, we would see them in a very different light, and the world would show itself to be a very different place. We all invest so much effort, conscious and unconscious, in the honing and maintenance of the social self, the persona, and in appearing the way we “ought” to appear to the people around us. The persona is necessary, but if we identify with it too much, it can also become and very thorny trap.
What is more, if we take our own dream life and unconscious life seriously, we begin to see ourselves in a radically different light. We begin to get a sense that the conscious portion of ourselves is only the tip of the iceberg, and we start to gain some understanding of what Jung meant when he referred to “the Self”. It is that complete Self, that all-encompassing identity, that lies at the heart of our yearning for wholeness and self-acceptance.