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Imagine you’re a tourist, tramping through a snowy Welsh village on Christmas day. Then the moment happens that all travelers hope for: somebody opens a door, invites you into a cozy living room, and you’re pinching yourself, thinking, “This is the real deal.” Watching the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, feels almost that good.
Dylan Thomas’s famous memory piece about what Christmas felt like when he was a boy has been dragged, protesting, through many an awkward adaptation. This version, created by Charlotte Moore (who added original songs), was originally produced by the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York. It is both jolly and delicate, that rare holiday reminiscence that isn’t cloying. Although some of the magic of Thomas’s language is lost in the naturalism of this show, we still feel its power.
The cast inhabits the stage as if they lived there, and they sing the way people sing, not the way actors sing. Scott Greer, who grounds the production with a charming authenticity, begins to read the Thomas prose piece: “Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the colour of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills…”
Greer leads the cast of five, including Aaron Cromie — whose tender direction sets the mood — and Maggie Lakis, Matthew Mastronardi (who occasionally signals he is ONSTAGE and not at home), and Amanda Jill Robinson. The sweet set was designed by Scott Groh and warmly lit by Sasha Anistratova.
Music and merriment
Mingled in with the wondrous Thomas language are songs — some familiar carols, some so old-fashioned you may never have heard them — and they sing a few of them in Welsh. Everyone can play multiple instruments: Piano, cello, guitar, banjo, flute, tambourine, violin, autoharp, and, of course, bells.
Each year it’s the same: Miss Fogarty’s awful Christmas cake (“could kill a man twice from eating a slice”), Aunt Hannah tipsy from the rum in her tea, the sleeping uncles, the presents, the turkey, the cakes, the peppermint canes, throwing snowballs at cats, and telling tall tales.
I wish the show had ended with more Dylan Thomas rather than seeming to start again with another song, but, hey ho, what harm from another song, in such good company, especially when we’re invited to sing along?
What, When, Where
A Child's Christmas in Wales. Adapted by Charlotte Moore. Based on a poem by Dylan Thomas. Aaron Cromie directed. Through December 23, 2016 at the Independence Studio on Three, Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. (215) 574-3550 or walnutstreettheatre.org.
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