Review: ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales,’ the longest day

 In Lantern Theater Company's

In Lantern Theater Company's "A Child's Christmas in Wales," from left: Charlie DelMarcelle, Amy Smith, Geneviève Perrier and Doug Hara.(Photo courtesy Mark Garvin)

If Lantern Theater company’s rendition is any indication, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is the … slowest … day … of … the … year. Paint might dry faster than it takes actress Geneviève Perrier to silently empty a box of mementos, examining each and even pouring the contents of one bottle onto the floor, then taking the time to wipe it up as clocks tick off stage. If the scene is supposed to tell us that this will be a long hour for a short play, it’s a strange form of truth in advertising.

Too bad, because there’s lots of imagination in that hour, courtesy of Sebastienne Mundheim, the storyteller, installation artist and theater artist who co-created this world-premiere adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ work along with Lantern Theater’s artistic director, Charles McMahon. Mundheim also directed “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and designed it beautifully, with sheets that whoosh to sound like waves when they’re manipulated, or that billow like smoke when pulled from the chimneys of miniature houses, and with meticulously fashioned puppets and many other nifty effects.

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is a memory story, told here mostly in slow, deliberate and ultimately gratuitous motion, as if memory somehow equates with a plodding cadence. For some people maybe it does, and there’s no doubt that the strained movements by Perrier and her fine fellow cast members – Amy Smith, Charlie DelMarcelle and Doug Hara – can be extremely effective. Once.

Combine the slo-mo with Dylan Thomas’ labored prose and the effect can be numbing. Thomas overloaded his description of the Christmas Day ritual for a kid in old Wales with so many images and metaphors and similies, it’s like … oh, forget it, I won’t add one to the heap. A sampling: “Years and years ago,” writes Thomas, “when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.”

That literary style may make for happy reading but becomes bloated when it’s read aloud to you. Perrier narrates the story in Thomas’ words with childlike, wide-eyed wonder and she does an impressive job. But the crash of images can hammer you into a dull submission no matter how well Perrier delivers them. I understand that this is Wales “before the motor car, before the wheel,” but if anyone has a set of jumper cables on hand, it wouldn’t hurt.

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“A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” produced by Lantern Theater Company, runs through Jan. 5 at St. Stephen’s Theatre, off 10th Street at Ludlow, between Market and Chestnut Streets. 215-829-0395 or www.lanterntheater.org.

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