I grew up on Dylan Thomas - his poetry, his troubled life, the music of his lilting voice on an old recording of Under Milkwood. In much of his work, Thomas focused his gaze back in time to an idealized childhood, when life was less complicated. In A Child's Christmas in Wales, his paean to that “never to be forgotten day at the end of the unremembered year," Thomas weaves evocative text into a rich tapestry of enchantment.
Director Charlotte Moore brings Thomas's memories to life in this adaptation of his popular reverie at off-Broadway's Irish Repertory Theatre. Christmas carols and storytelling sparkle with humor and a large dose of nostalgia. Both Moore's original music and the traditional holiday fare are arranged for the cast of six in refreshing harmony, to the accompaniment of piano, violin and snow falling gently on the cottage roofs. There's nothing like sitting all snug by the fire looking out at a winter scene. Dylan, it's cold outside.
Entering the theater, you feel transported to a shop window all decked out for the holidays. Pine trees draped in lights, a fireplace, overstuffed furniture, and a backdrop of a country village at night locate set designer James Morgan's cozy living room in time and space. Lighting designer Michael Gottlieb layers the scene in warm colors from stage light, Christmas lights, lamplit windows, and cottages silhouetted against the snow. Costume designer Barbara A. Bell’s holiday frocks and period suits and vests complete the image.
The cast is chock full of excellent singers, particularly Nicholas Barasch as Dylan Thomas and Naomi Louisa O’Connell as Dylan's mother. Barasch, with his sprightly demeanor and red hair has all the young boy enthusiasm required, without the self-conscious perkiness that could so easily undermine a young actor. His singing reflects that same intelligence. O'Connell, with her creamy soprano voice that moves easily through operatic color to musical theater sound, portrays Dylan's mother with a real delight.
On violin, soprano Margaret Dudasik moves seamlessly from strings to voice. As Thomas's staid father, Dewey Cadell presides from the throne of his wing chair with the right kind of ‘harrumph.’ The Irish lilt to Polly McKie's voice adds an old world texture to her comedic turn as the slightly daffy aunt who partakes of the sherry just a wee bit too much. Ashley Robinson is avuncular and youthful in turns, sharing an authentic camaraderie with Thomas, his childhood partner in snowball throwing crime.
At times the stage feels a little cramped, with the cast squeezing past each other or perching a little too tightly together on various chairs and couches. Then again, it is a cottage parlor crowded with memory. Recitation turns to action and when the cast eventually rises to dance you feel like joining them.
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)