REVIEW: Irish Rep enlivens Dylan Thomas stories in ‘Child’s Christmas in Wales’

Off-Broadway - TheaterNEW YORK — A Child’s Christmas in Wales, running through Jan. 3 at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square, is a simple, effective journey into the heart and holiday sentiments of poet Dylan Thomas. The cast of five actors, including Tony winner John Cullum, and accompanying pianist offer a touching interpretation of Thomas’ words and add in some Christmas carols for good measure. The evening of song and spoken word is not terribly revolutionary or complex, but the Irish Repertory Theatre and adaptor/director Charlotte Moore have a way of capturing the endearing holiday spirit.

The evening begins simple enough: The cast members enter the Christmas-themed stage, decked out with the requisite presents, fireplace and colors of red and green, take their position by their comfy chairs, and Cullum opens Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a classic book of yuletide cheer. From there on it’s a journey into the bucolic setting of a Welsh countryside Christmas. The recollections and stories are reminiscent of Jean Shepherd’s radio work and A Christmas Story. Evertthing is seen through a sepia-toned filter.

The choral selections, ably if not resoundingly sung by the cast, feature some classics, including “Deck the Halls,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “Silent Night.” Others are original, including “Open Your Eyes” by Moore, and there’s even a few sung in Welsh, including “Tawel Nos” (“Silent Night”) and “Calon Lân.” By the time “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” finishes the 80-minute production, audience members will find themselves with smiles and wishing there was a nearby glass of egg nog.

Among the cast, Cullum, a theater mainstay, centers the narrative like a welcoming father who has pulled up an armchair next to a crackling fireplace. Kenneth Quinny Francoeur and Jacque Carnahan have some excellent, pure voices, while Ashley Robinson gives some childlike wonder to the role of young Dylan Thomas. Katie Fabel shines in several numbers, including “Walking in the Snow” with Quinny Francoeur. The humor of the evening is captured in such songs as “Miss Forgarty’s Christmas Cake” and “Dylan Thomas Is a Fool.”

The real star of the show is Thomas, an early 20th century writer best known for Under Milk Wood and the poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” His words are beautifully derived when describing the snowy landscape of his Welsh memories, his eccentric family members and the feel-good attitude of late December. One could almost adapt the show simply out of his words, with no accompanying music, and the evening would be poetically rich. At times, the combination of song and poetry can feel overly structured, losing some of the spontaneity and wonder of a child and his memories of a hectic time.

Still, the music is a strong selling point, if for no other reason than it gives music director Mark Hartman the chance to keep the evening focused and rightfully merry.

At a time of year when commercialism is so high, and the true spirit of the holiday is lost on so many, Irish Repertory Theatre’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales finds the purity of the Christmas season by focusing on the words of its most poetic champion. Experiencing Thomas’ musings is a true way to celebrate family and the holidays.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • A Child’s Christmas in Wales
  • By Dylan Thomas
  • Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore
  • Musical direction by Mark Hartman
  • Featuring Jacque Carnahan, John Cullum, Katie Fabel, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur and Ashley Robinson
  • Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
  • A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a production of the Irish Repertory Theatre, is currently playing the DR2 Theatre at 103 E. 15th St. in Manhattan, N.Y. Click here for more information on tickets.
  • Rating: ★★★☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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