When you hear the name Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), the first thing that comes to most people’s minds about the Welsh poet is his best-known work, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”, written for his dying father. What you do not expect is to see a joyous, poignant remembrance of a family gathering over the Yuletide season. A Child’s Christmas in Wales, adapted from Thomas’ poem by playwrights Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell, is a warm story which reveals the everyday magic in the commonplaces of a more innocent era, seen from a young boy’s perspective.
Our guide into the past is the adult Dylan. The tale he relates for us is of a long-past Christmas eve – unique, yet made of the traditions of generations past and expected to remain so for years to come – when young Dylan’s parents will be hosting “the uncles and the aunts” for Christmas dinner. There are familiar melodies, some given new and more raucous lyrics by Dylan and his friends. Wintry mists and snowfalls turning familiar streets and parks into new playgrounds and turning the frozen sea edge into a new world of imagination. The almost unbearable anticipation of presents and feasting and the family ingathering. And, above it all, the taken-for-granted knowledge that you’re part of a large and loving family.
The cast, under the inspired direction of Joseph Discher, is uniformly excellent, a true ensemble in every sense of the word. Theirs is the art of convincing the audience not that they are not seeing a fine production (which they are) but rather that they are being invited in to observe a real family enjoying the season, the festivities, and each other. However, one has to praise the performance of Greg Jackson, taking on the task of playing both the adult Dylan and his younger self, and handling both roles exceedingly well. Of course, it takes outstanding designers to create the world in which this family resides, and as ever, the Shakespeare Theatre’s design team (scenic designer Jonathan Wentz, lighting designer Rachel Miner Gibney, costume designer Tristan Raines, and sound designer Steven Beckel) does not disappoint. Credit must also go to the fine work of dialect coach Stephen Gabis.
As Dylan’s father says, “My theory is that the singing of songs and the speaking of verse, which is what we do at Christmas, is the only fit way for humans to communicate with each other.” After seeing this celebration of family and holidays and more innocent times, one would be hard-pressed to disagree. I urge everyone to experience A Child’s Christmas in Wales before it closes on New Year’s Day.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales is being presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of the Drew University in Madison through January 1st, 2017. For tickets and information, visit www.shakespearenj.org.