By Ron Fassler
When you enter the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage Theatre at the Irish Rep this holiday season, the stage setting of a cozy and inviting living room (imagined in James Morgan’s fanciful design), welcomes you into a world that proves to be transporting for all its 70-minutes. In her adaptation of Dylan Thomas’s, A Children’s Christmas in Wales, Charlotte Moore, the co-founder and Artistic Director of Irish Rep, continues what is a now a holiday tradition with this limited engagement (she also directs the production). Having previously presented musicalized versions of Thomas’s story beginning in 2010, this marks the fourth time it has been welcomed into the company’s repertoire. And judging by the audience response, as well as the full house at which I attended, there is reason to believe it can be brought back for many years to come.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales had an interesting journey towards its first publication. It was originally commissioned in 1945 for the famed Welsh poet to read on the BBC. He was handed the title “Memories of Christmas” with which to draw inspiration, and over the next few years, rewrote it, finally evolving into a written piece titled “Conversation about Christmas,” printed in the Picture Post in 1947. Then it was bought by Harper’s Bazaar in 1950 for the sum of $300 and published under the title “A Child’s Memories of a Christmas in Wales.” Then in 1952, and on a tour of America, Thomas was approached to do a recording of his poems. Rather than both sides of the record filled with poetry, he asked to read his Christmas story for the “B” side. It what was sadly his usual fashion, Thomas arrived at the studio drunk (as eyewitnesses are said to have reported), and without a copy of his story from which to read. A Harper’s Bazaar was quickly found, though in its recording, Thomas rephrased it (and subsequently retitled it), A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
The recording went on to sell quite well, and was later printed as a book in different editions, accompanied by illustrations from many different artists. But Thomas wasn’t around to bask in the glow of its success, as only a year after recording it, he was dead at age thirty-nine.
There have been many adaptations of the work for radio, film and television, but in this stage version, using original songs, as well as traditional Christmas music from around the world, Thomas’s beautiful prose is augmented in a delightful and charming fashion. It is also (where I daresay) the piece may have found its one true home. Featuring everything from “Silent Night” (sung in both English and in Welsh), to new songs with music and lyrics by Charlotte Moore herself, you cannot escape the warmth of an evening (or an afternoon in my case) that embodies the spirit of Christmas any better. In its simplicity, marked by expert singing and musical arrangements, the full cast of three men and three women are superb. Running the gamut in looks, age and demeanor, the entire company deserves credit. Nicholas Barasch, Dewey Caddell, Margaret Dudasik, Polly McKie, Naomi Louisa O’Connell and Ashley Robinson. John Bell, the longtime musical director for all-things musical at the Irish Rep, is not only responsible for everything that is heard in this production, but is at every performance accompanying and conducting the actors at his place at the piano upstage right.
You have until December 30th to find your way to West 22nd Street in Chelsea, and take part in the joy of Christmas, by way of Dylan Thomas and the Irish Rep. Either by subway or sleigh ride, it’s well worth the trip.
A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES is playing now through December 30th at the Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011