In the Heart of Winter | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

In the Heart of Winter 

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In the Heart of Winter, Writers' Theatre-Chicago.

You'd be hard pressed to find a more beautiful or festive work this time of year than Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales," especially Michael Halberstam's loving reading of it. For sheer heartrending pathos Rebecca Covey's tender interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" is tough to beat. And Michael Garcia's eerie fable "Cottage of Candles" and Daphne du Maurier's somber refugee tale "Happy Christmas" are refreshing breaks from the standard holiday goo.

But given the plethora of great seasonal reading material out there, it's surprising how many of the rest of the stories performed for Writers' TheatrenChicago's three programs of readings for adults, curmudgeons, and children feel like filler and fluff. Inexplicably, the longest entry in the adult program is Marjorie Franco's banal "A Traditional Christmas," which dwells on one woman's predictable effort to accept her new stepmom. And in light of what we now know about child abuse, Robert Benchley's curmudgeonly "Editha's Christmas Burglar," about how a nosy little girl gets her comeuppance, just doesn't seem funny. Both the adult and the curmudgeon programs include the witty but too cute by half "'Twas the Night Before Solstice," by James "Politically Correct Best-Sellers" Finn Garner, and the patronizing "Deficit," by Garcia and Corrina Maurio, a plea for arts funding that's a sermon for the converted.

With its chorus of six seated readers who boast great enunciation, nice duds, and winning smiles, Writers' Theatre promises a "reductionist" approach. But sometimes it isn't reductionist enough. Some phony, gratuitous accents and shallow characterizations, most notably in the stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, are mood busters. The performers' attempts to give focus by beaming, nodding, and giggling at one another get a tad nauseating and make all three programs seem like kid stuff. And though the three programs are advertised as separate, there's so much overlap that you hardly need to go more than once.

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