By Sarah Downs
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. 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 inside by the fire looking out at a winter scene. Dylan, it’s cold outside.
Entering the theater, you feel as if you have been 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 Gottllieb layers the stage in warm colors from Christmas lights, lamplit windows, and cottages silhouetted against the snow. Costume Designer Barbara A. Bell’s holiday frocks and men in 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 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. Reverie turns to poetry and to action. When the cast eventually rises to dance you have to resist joining them.
A Child’s Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas, adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore; with Nicholas Barasch, Dewey Caddell, Margaret Dudasik, Polly McKie, Naomi Louisa O’Connell, and Ashley Robinson. John Bell, Musical Director; James Morgan, scenic design; Barbara A. Bell, costume design; Michael Gottlieb, lighting design. Runs 11/28 through 12/20, at the Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd St.) on the Francis J. Greenburger MainStage. For tickets go to Ovationtix.com or call 212-727-2737. Run time: 75 minutes, no intermission.