Review: ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Other Stories’ at Washington Stage Guild

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Dylan Thomas–known in the theatre world for his radio play, Under Milkwood, and in the prose world for Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, and in the poetry world for “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”–is known in the world of Christmas for “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

Laura Giannarelli and Vincent Clark. Photo courtesy of Washington Stage Guild.

The Washington Stage Guild has taken that poem and, with the help of adaptor and director Bill Largess, transformed it into Yuletide theatrical-fare.

Well, almost–maybe for the old Victorian, stay-at-home crowd, but not for the heavy drinking, philandering, bursting with poetic alliteration Welshman, Dylan Thomas.

In this production, you’ll get the text of his narrative prose-poem, but not the devilish spirit that made him the poet he is.

Then again, “Merry Christmas” by Louisa May Alcott, “What Christmas Is as We Grow Older” by Charles Dickens, and “King John’s Christmas” by A.A. Milne (think Winnie the Pooh) loved the English sitting room and the stories (poems) recited there.

Vincent Clark and Laura Giannarelli play Him and Her, which means they take turns reciting the poems to each other. Neither actor uses the infamous “poet voice” (Thank you Santa) made famous by countless poets all across America, but they do use a somewhat snooty British accent and a less than charming correctness.

If anything is true about Dylan Thomas’ poetics, it has to be the absolute delight he takes in language, the sound of it and the twisting of it syntax. Neither actor finds that magic in his tales of snow and ice.

Finding the throughline of a poem is also challenging, as poetic structure depends more on a progression of consciousness than a progression of events. Although both actors deliver the texts with clarity, neither manages to sustain the poems’ dramatic throughlines, with Dickens’ poem being the exception.

Laura Giannarelli and Vincent Clark. Photo courtesy of Washington Stage Guild.

Carl F. Gudenius and Kelvin Small designed the set, complete with Christmas tree and mantelpiece, all lit by Marianne Meadows.

Rhe’a Roland designed the costumes for Him and Her, and Frank DiSalvo, Jr. designed the sound effects that occasionally punctuated moments in the poems.

Adaptor Bill Largess also offered audiences a Medieval Puzzle, which contained a Medieval joke, which was truly delightful.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission

A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Other Stories runs through December 17, 2017, at the Washington Stage Guild performing at the Undercroft Theatre of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church – 900 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 582-0050, or purchase them online.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.