“They loved me in America–loved me to death,” says Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in the one-man play Do Not Go Gentle. Presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theater in association with Canada’s Stratford Festival, Leon Pownall’s monodrama explores Thomas’s conflicted identity as one of the 20th century’s great writers of verse and short stories and as a dissolute hedonist enabled into an early grave by his admirers. The show is performed here by Geraint Wyn Davies, a highly regarded classical actor whose roles range from Hamlet to Henry Higgins–though he’s best known as the star of TV’s Forever Knight (“that vampire thing,” he calls the series, on which he played undead detective Nick Knight). Though Wyn Davies, like Thomas, was born in Swansea, he makes little effort to impersonate his fellow Welshman, whose recordings (Thomas was perhaps the first celebrity performance poet) showcase an orotund voice and the florid delivery of an old-fashioned Shakespearean actor. “You don’t want to mimic too much,” says Wyn Davies. “You want to use the intentions of what he wrote. I love the way Thomas spoke, but it was of a time. Audiences seem to respond better to me being as honest as I can.” Do Not Go Gentle depicts Thomas in purgatory following his death from alcoholism–raging against the dying of the light, then “trying to atone and come to grips with himself so he can move on,” Wyn Davies says. But as anyone familiar with Thomas’s bawdy humor would expect, the show’s heavy theme is leavened by considerable wit–and by plentiful selections from Thomas’s writing, with its rhapsodic lyricism, musical lilt, lush sonorities, and brilliant rhyme and alliteration. Says Wyn Davies: “We’re exploring the dark side of a hero.” Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600. Opens Thursday, May 1, 8 PM. Through May 4: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 2:30 PM. $35.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Julie Stanton.