HAPPY TALK Overly, Carpenter, Odie, Tessier, Tom Gleadow, and David Rabinow.
The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre is presenting Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales, always a good idea at this time of year. This expanded version of the 2003 adaptation by artistic director Tony Estrella incorporates fragments of other works by the Welsh poet, even a complete short story, and continues in a short run through December 26.
There is plenty to enjoy in this rollicking 75-minute display of the mischievous wordsmith, enthusiastically inhabited by Tom Gleadow. This will be enough for many, if not most, audience members. That said, much of the potential of such a presentation has been neglected in looking exclusively at the lighter side of the man and his writings.
It's set in 1952 in New York City's Chelsea Hotel, when he was on the last of his four reading tours of America. Considering that this is when and where he died, having done his best to drink himself to death in neighborhood bars, it's especially jarring to hear nothing but happy talk from him. It's jarring and, well, insulting to his memory as a far more substantial poet than is presented here.
To be fair, there are some darker references, but they are each given the bum's rush as embarrassing intruders. The most wince-inducing example is a metaphor tossed out in a, believe it or not, humorous context — "[her] fist of a face [died] clenched on a round pain," from "After the Funeral." His poem that begins with "Do not go gentle into that good night/Old age should burn and rage at close of day" has not much more than those lines read by Gleadow, since more than such a chapter heading would have required slowly carving out enough psychological space for us to meditate a moment on the conflict.
Addressing the audience, Gleadow invites us into Thomas's recollections. Charmingly, the actor's six-year-old son Max plays the young Dylan, and their looking so much alike gives a spooky verisimilitude. A half-dozen other actors pipe up as various characters and sing nearly a dozen traditional songs, many of them Welsh.
The prose poem of the title is a little less than 3000 words, and it isn't read straight through. Phrases and brief snippets from Thomas's poems are interwoven, as well as tidbits from letters and portions of stories. One entire short story from "Portrait of the Artist As a Young Dog" is read by David Tessier toward the end as an entertaining yarn, though it might have been more effective through Gleadow, since it is largely autobiographical.
The "A Child's Christmas" portion is a first-person account, largely of boys being mischievous, throwing snowballs at cats, postmen, and into the burning house of the Protheros. Mr. Prothero (Cliff Odie) stands in the smoke, "waving his slipper as though he were conducting," as Miss Prothero (Karen Carpenter) politely asks the firemen if they would like anything to read. The hoot of the piece is Wendy Overly as a tipsy Auntie Hannah, "who had got on to the parsnip wine, [and] sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death."