'Child's Christmas in Wales': Warm confection of song, nostalgia
Even amid the opening of presents, the winter holidays lend themselves to nostalgia in whispers of Christmas past. As such, it should surprise no one that no children play or perform in the Walnut Street Theatre's production of A Child's Christmas in Wales, Charlotte Moore's song-filled stage adaptation of Dylan Thomas' memoir.
Instead, five adults recite and dramatize Thomas' famous story of a holiday like no other, written in 1945, when he was 31. Moore's adaptation intersperses Thomas' narrative with traditional carols like "Silent Night" and "Deck the Halls" (as well as Welsh songs and works Moore penned for this adaptation).
In a far more innocent time, when Christmas evoked the myth and magic of the Nativity, instead of the commercials and clever robotics of new toys, Thomas' family gathered for a celebration of community, cheer, and Christianity. His music hangs in every line like ornaments on an evergreen, reminiscing of a time when the "sky that was our street" glowed in moonlight that ran to the "rim of the carol-singing sea."
Scott Groh's set of brick walls and wood tables, stockings, and snow-frosted glass evokes a modest, early-20th-century home (with a working stove). Under Aaron Cromie's direction, the five actors dance and carouse across this space and enchant with Thomas' tale. Scott Greer, in a wool cardigan, warms with his fatherly narration. Together with Maggie Lakis and Amanda Jill Robinson, the three delight in song, with Greer adding a delicate lilt to the Welsh verses of "Ar Hyd y Nos" (All Through the Night). Robinson and Cromie give nuanced portrayals of aunts and uncles, each with annoyingly endearing vices that enliven and disrupt holiday dinners.
Matthew Mastronardi's music direction yields soft, intimate living-room renditions of songs, as he performs with this quintet through soothing harmonies in "Open Your Eyes" and "Ring Out the Bells" (both written by Moore). And as bells ring out, this cast dazzles on a dozen instruments, including banjo, guitar, keyboard, flute, and cello.
Sasha Anistratova's lighting guides us through Christmas Eve into morning and night, when Thomas' poem turns comic, as kids ask for bicycles and machine guns, and roving ruffians raid the neighbors' backyard to snowball the cats.
In its spinning of holiday myth and lore, A Child's Christmas in Wales reminds me of Tolkein – if not of any specific Christmas I have experienced. But it kept me grinning for 75 minutes, vicariously enjoying Thomas' memory of the holidays, of a time perhaps lost – if not preserved like sugary jam in this show.
A Child's Christmas in Wales. Through Dec. 23 at the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3. Tickets: $35 to $40. Information: 215-574-3550 or walnutstreettheatre.org.