Who could have predicted that a 30-year-old verse play by a dead poet about a tiny Welsh fishing village would have become a long-running off-Loop hit? Barto Productions’s staging of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood opened last October in the tiny basement of Cafe Voltaire and quickly gathered enough steam to warrant an open run at the Theatre Building’s 144-seat west theater, where it’s still packing ’em in. The ingredients for this extraordinary success include an atmospheric production, which conjures up the script’s seacoast setting and shifting moods through evocative and imaginative use of musical and ambient sounds; the protean and passionate performance by Michael A. Garcia as the narrator (the role played by Thomas in the work’s 1953 premiere); and a flexible and finely focused supporting ensemble, whose 11 members slip in and out of several roles each with clockwork timing under Michael Barto and Peter Cieply’s direction. Most important, though, is the magic, mischief, and mournful mystery of Thomas’s haunting and bawdy poetry as it probes the secret dream lives of the mythical town of Llareggub, a microcosm of human existence in all its folly and fragility. Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, 327-5252. Open run: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8: 15 PM; Sundays, 3:15 PM. $16.50-$22.50.

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