A Child's Christmas in Wales
ArtsCenter Stage / Youth Performing Arts Conservatory
Through Dec. 20
As a rule, we don't review children's productions—holiday-themed shows performed by children for audiences filled with doting parents, extended families (whose dotage usually decreases the further they extend) and frenemies at school.
The reason should be obvious: Self-preservation. I get enough mail bombs as it is without added entries from incensed stage moms and dads (or their little Finsters and Finsterellas, for that matter). Besides, David Sedaris has already given us a pretty good picture of what such an exercise would look like in a hilarious essay "Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol." Clearly, in that direction madness lies.
But we darkened the doors of Carrboro's ArtsCenter last week to examine the first fruits of their Youth Performing Arts Conservatory program, in a staged adaptation of Dylan Thomas' holiday classic, A Child's Christmas in Wales. The result: a show largely worth seeing—even if you don't happen to be first cousin once removed on the brother-in-law's side to one of the bright young faces on stage.
Producers Jeri Lynn Schulke, Emily Ranii and director John Feltch have clearly exercised care here. John Paul Middlesworth's loving set design quotes Ellen Raskin's evocative woodcut illustrations from the 1959 New Directions chapbook edition of Dylan's text. As a bonus, the evocative script incorporates into Thomas' inimitable prose poetry a number of ingredients: sometimes heartfelt (and sometimes silly) original music by Shannon O'Neill, vivid biographical information about Swansea, the Welsh poet's boyhood home, biographical details about Thomas himself, a non-Dickensian Christmas ghost story and an a capella Gaelic hymn sung in four-part harmony, among other things. The resulting production is richer as a result.
The stage work is anchored by four grown-ups: the avuncular Reid Dalton, Jillian Holmquist, who channels a Christmas-addled mother with panache, singer Susan Siplon and a crisp Gabriel Leal. By the end of the work, every adult and child has worn a long red scarf—and taken on Thomas' words as their own in a warm, funny and touching remembrance of Christmases past.