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In a land far away and a time long ago, a Welsh boy once celebrated the beauty of falling snow.

Theater Review (NYC-Off Broadway): ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ at The Irish Rep

Katie Fabel, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur, John Cullum, Ashley Robinson, Mark Hartman, Jacque Carnahan, A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES, Irish Repertory Theatre, DR2 Theatre
L to R: Katie Fabel, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur, John Cullum, Ashley Robinson, Mark Hartman (music director) and Jacque Carnahan in A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES at The Irish Repertory Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales is Dylan Thomas’ loving tribute to the innocence of childhood, the piquancy of the wintry elements -heaps of snow, shattering ice, blustery cold, and the friends and family who were a part of the Christmas remembrances of his boyhood in Wales.

The capable and talented powers of the Irish Repertory Theatre ensemble and two time Tony award winner John Cullum present Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales in a lively production which awakens the youthful spirit of joy in each of us. The show is simultaneously a heart-breaking reminder of past Christmas celebrations with festive family gatherings, sumptuous dinners, sweet treats and loads of merriment.

With lighthearted effervescence, Charlotte’s Moore’s direction and the efforts of the design team (lighting, costumes, sets), embody all the beauty, romance and exuberance of the season. The refreshing music selections, both traditional and originally created (by Charlotte Moore and others), are interspersed appropriately among passages from Dylan’s work. The songs sung by the ensemble and arranged by Musical Director Mark Hartman revisit familiar tunes I remember singing in school assemblies. There are also songs sung in Welsh, one recognizable, one not: ‘Twawel Nos’ translated as “Silent Night” and ‘Calon Lân’ which I believe is translated as “a clean/virtuous heart.”

John Cullum, Ashley Robinson, A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES, The Irish Repertory Theatre
(L to R): John Cullum, Ashley Robinson, Mark Hartman in A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES at The Irish Repertory Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Songs are lovingly arranged to parallel the subjects of the passages read by various ensemble members. Thomas’ visually poetic story is gorgeously rich in imagery and flowing, rhythmically colorful metaphors and onomatopoetic cadences which are designed to resonate and thrill with the sounds of  the season.

John Cullum and the rest of the cast are masterful in conveying the feel of Thomas’ painterly language that brushstrokes vivid portraits of  characters-the postmen who “huff and puff and make ghosts with their breath,” the uncles groaning under the weight of full bellies, the “brittle aunts” poised on the edge of chairs afraid to break. Among rounds of songs there are the lists and lists of useful and useless toys, even one for “Little Engineers” with instructions for assemblage that only Leonardo could figure out.

John Cullum, A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES, The Irish Repertory Theatre, DR2 Theatre
John Cullum in A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES at The Irish Repertory Theatre. Photo by Carole Rosegg.

After Cullum leaves off, others take up the story line with their lyrically recited additions. Actor Ashley Robinson portrays the young Dylan Thomas and each actor/singer in their turn spills out Thomas’ careful humor in vibrantly expressed phrases.

It always amazes me what children remember and forget, what is stunning to them is what adults often ignore. Thomas refracts this with the memories of his observations of the adults who visit Christmas day. They are larger than life. I particularly enjoyed the cast’s rendition of Thomas’ humorous observations of the aunts and uncles and particularly Aunt Hannah’s nips of alcohol, her reaching for the port, the slippage of rum in her tea, her getting on to the parsnip wine, and her excuse that Christmas “is once a year.”

I enjoyed the cast’s choral work during the segment of Mrs. Prothero and the firemen. The children lay in wait anticipating a snowball battle with “the cats” that never happened because something better did, Mrs. Prothero’s house fire that was clouds and clouds of smoke. There is the memorable Mrs. Fogarty’s Christmas cake which poisons (I had a wonderful aunt who yearly gave us fruitcake that we swore could break concrete), the “tall tales” evoking a ghost, and the “music.”

 Katie Fabel, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur, John Cullum, and Ashley Robinson in A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES, The Irish Repertory Theatre, DR2 Theatre
(L to R): Katie Fabel, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur, John Cullum, and Ashley Robinson in A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES at The Irish Repertory Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

I had never seen Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, performed quite like this as a oral/dramatic reading with the song selection and accompaniment.  The production touched my heart and brought me back to my own Christmases with generations of family, now all gone. However, the younger generations are on the scene and in this season where consumerism is rife, work is ever-present and holidays are not given because of work schedules, the Irish Rep production is refreshing. First, it is a poignant reminder beautifully encapsulated by the cast’s evocation of Thomas’ story of what was and what will never be again. And it is an uplift for us to fashion new memories and new blessings, and as Charlotte Moore and others have done, create new songs to sing so the joy and peace of what Christmas and the season represent spiritually overflows, regardless of the times that are changing.

Especially if you haven’t celebrated the season yet and are flying off to vacation in a summery clime, this is a bountiful way to usher in the holiday. Thomas’ descriptions offer striking imagery of the snow and cold without any of their real-time effects. Was it only decades ago when our parents affirmed that our world was a pretty cool place and now we affirm this to our children and grandchildren, stirring their imagination to believe in the fanciful and otherworldly? For at least one day of the year, we may join together and appreciate this hope: “God rest us merry gentlepersons let nothing we dismay.” Surely, in one “silent and holy night” is the promise of resurrection.

Despite the continuing national debacles, Christmas was and still is a time of reassurance and comfort for many. For that reason this holiday classic is a superb seasonal show that kids old and young will appreciate. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas performed and sung by John Cullum, Jacque Carnahan, Katie Fable, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur and Ashley Robinson of The Irish Repertory Theatre runs at the DR2 Theatre through January 3rd.

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About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three blogs: The Fat and the Skinny, All Along the NYC Skyline, A Christian Apologists' Sonnets. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics. To Blogcritics she contributed 583 reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately, but also reviewed exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for Theater Pizzazz and has contributed to T2Chronicles, NY Theatre Wire. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely. Her unpublished novel (Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers) is copyrighted in the Library of Congress as is her two act play, Edgar.

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