'Wales' a Christmas delight

By Joseph Hurley

[caption id="attachment_22214" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="From left: Martin Vidnovic, Victoria Mallory, Simon Jones,musical director John Bell, Ashley Robinson and Kerry Conte star in the irish Repertory Theater’s production of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”"]


“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” By Dylan Thomas • Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West. 22 St., NYC / 212-727-2737 • Through Jan. 2, 2011

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One of the genuine delights of the holiday season is the Irish Repertory Theatre’s richly imaginative treatment of Dylan Thomas’ imperishable tribute to his own Welsh boyhood, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

Starting with the 1996-1997 season, the Irish Rep has done the show on roughly every other Christmas season, with the current production being the seventh time they’ve done it, usually in the group’s subterranean studio space.

This year, however, the show is on the street level Mainstage, where, flanked by half-a-dozen beautifully trimmed Christmas trees, and a couple of small, unadorned ones, plus a starburst of colored lights, it is visually more appealing than ever.

The Rep’s tireless Artistic Director, Charlotte Moore, has, probably wisely, resisted the temptation to inflate the production beyond the graceful hour it’s always occupied.

On the strength of its appearance on the Mainstage, where the show played only once before, Moore’s well-paced production could easily have made good use of a few additional moments, or perhaps an additional interpolated song or even two.

However, since “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is emphatically a family show, Moore probably took into consideration the limited attention span of children and left things as they’ve stood for years, with perhaps only a modest scattering of minutes extending the venture’s length beyond a clean, tidy sixty minutes.

This year’s show is probably in the best shape since the days when the late Pauline Flanagan anchored Thomas’ durable words. Now, with Moore’s well-chosen quintet of singing actors, his warmth and wisdom remain firmly in place, shining and shimmering as glowingly as always..

Who can forget the great Welsh poet’s conjecture as to whether or not fish were aware of the snow falling on the water above them as they swam?

And what about the deceased Aunt, whom Thomas described as “no longer whinnying with us,” or the chilled postman with “a rose on his button nose?”

Or a family member, discussing the abundance of candy on hand, preferring to think of “Butterwelsh” rather than the more conventional “Butterscotch?”

What’s the difference if American audiences don’t quite understand young Dylan’s complaint about having to endure “laverbread and cockles” for breakfast every Christmas morning?

Or the uncles, who, after having ”turkey and blazing pudding, sat in front of the fire, loosened all their buttons, put their large, moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept.”

It’s all there, from “Auntie Dosie, who had to have three aspirins,” to “Auntie Hannah, who liked rum in her tea,” to Dylan’s recalling a certain earlier harsh winter, without being able to “remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights” when he was twelve, or “twelve days and twelve nights” when he was six.

Moore’s cast is exemplary, with mop-headed Ashley Robinson, who has done the show before, a perfact boyish Dylan Thomas, with Simon Jones and Martin Vidnovic both standouts as the older males in the story’s narrative.

Sopranos Victoria Mallory and Kerry Conte, both of whom have appeared at the Irish Rep on more than one occasion, are strong singers, put to excellent use in the current production.

Pianist John Bell, who’s done at least one earlier edition of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” has the show in flawless musical control, helping the performers do their best work without drawing undue attention to his own excellence.

The Irish Rep’s version of Dylan Thomas’ wonderfully resonant memory piece is, as always, an outstanding Christmas gift from one of the city’s truly outstanding theater companies to its loyal audiences, not to mention their children.

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” runs through January 2.