Thursday, September 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES

A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES

Review: A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES

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A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES

By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

“I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”


So Dylan Thomas evokes a long-gone world in his gorgeous and nostalgic prose poem, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Hischildhood memories of Christmases are filled with snow and scary adventures and sleeping uncles and candy cigarettes and green-eyed cats.

Lantern Theatre’s artistic director, Charles McMahon adapted the poem for the stage with co-creator Sebastienne Mundheim, who also directed and designed the production.

Thomas’ language is so lush, the images so easily seen by the mind’s eye, that illustrating each image in the most plodding and baldest of ways, as this show does, is, simply, self-defeating. To make the magical long and boring—as it would be for even the youngest child—is to do the story and the audience a disservice.

There are so many errors in judgment that it’s hard to know where to start.

First was casting Genevieve Perrier as the narrator; over and over she had to say, “when I was a boy…”; her voice is too feminine, too thin, too American to carry the rolling Welsh rhythms.  She begins as a woman in a dress, unwrapping memorabilia—including a porcelain teacup, giving the show a near-Proustian opening moment. But then, presto, she is transformed into a boy in a jacket and cap. Why?

Then there are the puppets: Mundheim’s big fish and little houses with paper stuffed in their chimneys to look like smoke, and a red choochoo train and…well, you get the idea. These are all manipulated at a glacial tempo, with the four actors—Perrier is joined by Charlie DelMarcelle, Doug Hara and Amy Smith—performing slow-motion vaguely balletic movements. The stage is decorated with white plastic bags inflated to suggest snowballs.

Thomas’ piece is filled with the music of words piled on words (“that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea”), but Mundheim has added long stretches of silence  (it isn’t long enough to fill up the hour of stage time), with occasional tinkly music and a crashing waves.

 As though we might not understand that this was to be a wondrous recollection, all the actors keep their eyes wide open in fake astonishment. Mine were nearly closed.

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Lantern Theatre, 10th & Ludlow Sts. Through Jan. 5. Tickets $20-38. Information: lanterntheater.org or 215-829-0395.

 

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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