A Child's Christmas in Wales and Other Holiday Tales | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Child's Christmas in Wales and Other Holiday Tales 

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Impulse Theatre Company, at the Athenaeum Studio Theatre.

The best thing about this well-chosen, 90-minute anthology of Christmas songs and stories is the variety of selections. Susan Leigh's staging is crisp and seldom cloying (the exception is when the cast mingle with the audience). And it offers such disparate fare as a scene from Little Women and Dostoyevsky's description of a melancholy Christmas meal in a Siberian prison camp (written almost at the same time), Rainer Maria Rilke's ardent poems and Anne Sexton's tormented memoirs, Dave Barry (hilarious as usual) and Andrei Codrescu (recalling how Christmas returned to Romania in 1989). There are holiday snapshots in words or song from Australia, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and the Huron nation as well.

The program also includes Langston Hughes's affirming "Carol of the Brown King" and the haunting "Legend of the Black Madonna," movingly told by Diana Elizabeth Jordan. The songs range from traditional ("The Holly and the Ivy" in rich harmony and "Stille Nacht") to a musical treatment of Clement Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (as well as the night after) to the calypso-driven "Villancico" and excerpts from The Wiz (which were dated and poorly performed).

The centerpiece is an awesomely coordinated choral reading of Dylan Thomas's tour de force A Child's Christmas in Wales. Alternately performed in unison and individually by the 11-member ensemble, it suffered from uneven Welsh accents and some hesitancy but did ample credit to this dazzling piece of storytelling, prose so rich you should exercise after hearing it.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Bridges.

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