Review by Judd Hollander
Vivid recollections of a time long ago often strike a poignant note. Especially to those who never experienced them but wish so much that they could. Such a case in point is A Child's Christmas in Wales. Written by Dylan Thomas in 1952 and subsequently adapted as a musical by Charlotte Moore, artistic director of the Irish Repertory Theatre, this marks the show's sixth return engagement to the Irish Rep stage, following its premiere there in 2002.
The cast of six, with music director David Hancock Turner providing accompaniment on the piano, present a story awash with wistfulness and nostalgia. They each taking turns to relate, via the viewpoint of a 12-year-old Thomas, the Christmas traditions and celebrations he experienced as a child. A time when it was "always snowing" in December and how, no matter the memory, everything always seemed to be so much bigger.
Kylie Kuioka, Dan Macke, Ali Ewoldt, Kerry Konte, Jay Aubrey Jones and Ashley Robinson in "A Child's Christmas in Wales". (Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg)
What makes the tale so universal, is how the text constantly conjures up situations with which one can emphasize. Such as having to interact with relatives you only saw once a year. Or getting a chance to taste such delicacies that warmed both your stomach and your soul. Along with those you would rather die before trying a second time. The latter humorously recalled with the song "Miss Fogarty's Christmas Cake".
There were also the promises and pleas children made to God as they apologized for anything they might have done which could cause them to forfeit the Christmas gifts they were hoping to receive. Not to mention always having to be grateful for any "useless presents" they were given. "Useless” in this case defined as items more functional (i.e., a sweater or pair of mittens) than anything resembling fun. Mixed in with the frivolity is a bit of sadness when the story mentions relatives so old and fragile they looked like they might break. One can’t help but wonder if such persons were present simply because they were family, or because they had nowhere else to go.
Thomas has a firm grasp of imagery
in his writing. Something
As it is when it comes to memories, details tend to blur and merge. For as is pointed out, "one Christmas was so much like another in those years"; and "I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six". Of course, it isn't always important exactly how or when a special memory occurred, but rather only that it did happen.
Dan Macke, Ali Ewoldt, Jay Aubrey Jones, Ashley Robinson and Kerry Conte in "A Child's Christmas in Wales". (Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg)
The cast is quite enjoyable, with the standouts including Kerry Conte, who has an absolutely wonderful singing voice; Ashley Robinson as Thomas' father, and Dan Macke in the Dylan Thomas role.
The set by John Lee Beatty is filled with Christmas trees and lights, all of which beautifully capture the yuletide sprit. While also giving the impression of being in an outdoor cathedral. Costumes by David Toser fit perfectly with the holiday season.
In what has become a perennial favorite, A Child's Christmas in Wales recalls a time and place that only existed for perhaps a select few, but which brilliantly taps into the universal longing of home, family and being together at the holidays.
Featuring: Kerry Conte (Ensemble), Ali Ewoldt (Ensemble) Jay Aubrey Jones (Ensemble), Kylie Kuioka (Ensemble), Dan Macke (Ensemble), Ashley Robinson (Ensemble)
Child's Christmas in
by Dylan Thomas
Adapted and Directed by Charlotte Moore
Music Supervision by John Bell
Music Direction by David Hancock Turner
Setting Designed by John Lee Beatty
Costume Design by David Toser
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb
Presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre
Tickets: 212-727-2337 or https://irishrep.org
Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission