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The ArtsCenter’s Youth Performing Arts Conservatory (YPAC) opened their holiday rendition of a Dylan Thomas classic this past weekend. A Child’s Christmas in Wales is actually more of a short story than it is a poem, though it is most certainly heavy with poetic description. YPAC recreates the event using a quartet of adults and seven children, all quick and excited and preparing for Christmas. Thomas wrote the tale as a remembrance of his actual ninth Christmas, in 1923. But because it is a memory piece, Thomas himself has noted that any given image may come from any given Christmas from age six to age 12.
The one-hour ensemble reenactment comes complete with a white village for a backdrop, as designed by John Paul Middlesworth; and it is augmented by music, melding several Christmas carols with original music penned by Shannon O’Neil. These notes are performed by an onstage quartet; Alex Feltch, Nathan Logan, Byron Settle and Alexander Brynidsen provide guitar, drums, double bass and flute. The words, Thomas’s own, are sung to this music by the cast, as they dance their way across the stage in memory-created scenes and circumstances.
Dylan as a child is played at one time or another by all the children. We quickly learn that the youth who wears the long red scarf is Thomas, and the scarf gets passed from hand to hand as all the other children play the lad’s friends, schoolmates, and cousins. There is a long list of aunts (played by Jillian Holmquist and Susan Palm Siplon) and uncles (Reid Dalton and Gabriel Leal), who come bearing gifts and stay for Christmas Dinner, bringing cousins and more cousins to vex young Dylan.
There are seven urchins who create the lads and lasses of Swansea, Wales, Thomas’ boyhood home. The girls (Brenna Kuder, Nell Ovitt, Nia Hilton Wohl, and sisters Emma Palm and Grace Carol Siplon) outnumber the boys (Julian Lambert and Bennett Congdon); but some imaginative costuming by Jessie Giloolly and the speed at which the children play in Swansea’s deep Christmas snow blurs the lines considerably. There is much tomfoolery (Thomas’ “The Hippo Song” being a chief example) and throwing of snowballs, and much is made of chasing the town’s cats about the place. But Thomas’s own poetic descriptions and the combining of voices in four-part harmony make the songs and dances of this production the true focal point. This 11-member cast has put in many hours of singing and dancing in order to entertain us this season, and the harmonies coming from the stage have a choral component that makes them truly delightful.
Co-founder of YPAC John Feltch directs this performance of melodies, memories and mayhem by creating the maximum amount of energy onstage. The whole cast performs in their stocking feet, for the clatter that would arise from all this action while shod would be deafening. The production is a fun-loving and word-loving whirlwind, as the words of Dylan Thomas take us all back to a simpler, but not necessarily quieter, Yuletide season.
The ArtsCenter’s production of A Child’s Christmas in Wales completes its two-week run December 18-20. See our theatre calendar for details.