Puppets can't carry 'A Child's Christmas in Wales'

Cast of the adapted poem (from left): Amy Smith, Charlie DelMarcelle, Doug Hara, Genevieve Perrier.
Cast of the adapted poem (from left): Amy Smith, Charlie DelMarcelle, Doug Hara, Genevieve Perrier. (KATE RAINES)
Posted: December 14, 2013

'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." His childhood memories of Christmases are filled with snow and scary adventures and sleeping uncles and candy cigarettes and green-eyed cats.

Lantern Theater's artistic director, Charles McMahon, adapted the poem for the stage with cocreator 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 baldest and most plodding 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 fire engine 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 (not long enough to fill up the hour of stage time), with occasional tinkly music and 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.


A Child's Christmas in Wales

Presented by Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen's Theater, at 10th and Ludlow Sts., through Jan. 5. Tickets $20-$38. Information: lanterntheater.org or 215-829-0395.

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