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A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES

THE BASICS:   This grossly expanded version of Dylan Thomas’ beloved little childhood reminiscence is this year’s holiday offering at the Irish Classical Theatre.  Chris Kelly directs a cast of 14 (!)  Musical direction is by Joseph Donohue III.  A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS runs weekends at the Andrews Theatre through December 15th.  The play, with its single, 10 minute intermission, runs a tad over 2 hours.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  The adult Dylan Thomas, who narrates, takes us back to the long-ago Christmases of his boyhood in rural Wales.  A memory play, it is not about any specific Christmas, or any specific year, although it would appear that we have drifted back in time to the 1920’s.

THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION:  I realize, as I sit down to write this, that I’m going to be thought of as some combination of Ebeneezer Scrooge, Old Man Potter and the Grinch by the time you finish reading.  Two hours of nicely costumed nostalgia with lots of nice voices blending in prettily arranged traditional and pseudo-traditional tunes—what’s not to like?  Well, there are some things, actually, especially for a crotchety old purist like myself:

Let’s start with the source material, and what happened to it.  A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS, first published in 1950, and recorded by Thomas himself in 1952, helped establish Caedmon Records, and went on to be poet Thomas’ best loved prose piece.  It’s really very short, and can be read out slowly and dramatically, to great effect, in about 20 minutes. 

Photo by Gene Witkowski

So, what do we have here at the ICTC, that takes up a full two hours of our time?  Mostly songs, a little dance, and chatter from a large raft of “colorful” characters made up entirely by the “adapters”—Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell.  Although it may not ruffle the feathers of many viewers, this, to my mind, is real chutzpah!  Yes, Brooks and Mitchell have retained some of Thomas’ beautiful language.  It all comes out of the mouth of the adult Dylan Thomas;  here in Buffalo, Vincent O’Neill purrs it out quite pleasingly. But, as I reckon it, this CHILD’S CHRISTMAS is only about 15% Dylan Thomas.  How would you feel if you bought a carton labeled “orange juice”, to find that it was only 15% orange juice?   To continue the food analogy, adapters Brooks and Mitchell have taken a delicious but small square of cake, and plastered it over with a good 6” of mediocre supermarket frosting! 

In the manner of Mr. Thomas, these adapters have kept the piece plotless, but this is not necessarily a virtue when you are dealing with a two hour play! 

The music is definitely pleasant;  there is plenty of fine musicianship on display all evening.

The music is definitely pleasant;  there is plenty of fine musicianship on display all evening.  Tender three and four part harmonies abound.  But the numbers, pretty as they are, grow repetitive as the piece plods along.  

Another big problem is that there are quite a number of (young) adults playing children in this production.  This is a major theatrical no-no.  It hardly ever works out well.  Moreover, these young adults have apparently all been coached to give really outsized performances.  “Big” doesn’t begin to cover it.  Call me a Grinch, but I found this on-steroids approach to the children rather hard to take.

Photo by Gene Witkowski

And what about the snow???  The word is repeated over and over in the Thomas piece; it’s a truly dominant element.  Yet (Spoiler Alert), except for one fleeting moment at the very end of the play, This CHILD’S CHRISTMAS is entirely snowless. No white hills, no snowflakes on the windows, nothing!  Oy!

A quick shout-out to Greg Gjurich, who brings a couple of crusty oldsters to whimsical life. 

The pretty period costumes are by Vivian DelBello.  There’s also some quaint faux-lantern lighting by Matt DiVita.

IN SUM:  The ICTC aims for classy, invoking Dylan Thomas, but has chosen an adaptation of his tiny Christmas classic that buries it alive.  The music is pleasing, and well performed, but with so little of the poet’s magic to sustain it, this extended, plotless outing is pretty much of a snooze.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Grant Golden

Grant Golden

GRANT GOLDEN wears a number of hats. He has been practicing radiology in Buffalo since 1981, for the past 15 years, with Seton Imaging. Dr Laszlo Tabar, internationally famous mammographer, has been his special friend and mentor.

Grant began The Old Chestnut Film Society, Buffalo’s only film society, in 1983. Now in its 35th consecutive season, the OCFS does monthly screenings of Hollywood classics in 16mm.

He has written the scores (and some of the books) for a number of locally produced musicals, including the old WONDERMAKERS shows, THE OTHER ISLAND, NOBODY’S INN (Alleyway Theatre), IZZY! (Musicalfare), and ME II (Western Door Playhouse). He reviewed local plays on the radio for 20 years--on WBEN and WBFO—before making the switch to BuffaloRising.

Grant and his lovely wife Deborah live in Central Park with their dog Ginger, and cats Ella and Felix. They have three adult children, and now, happily, two grandchildren!

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