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'A Child's Christmas in Wales' is a holiday show worth unwrapping | Guest Review

By ELIZABETH SHEPHERD

For The Beachcomber

Vashon has many lovely holiday traditions, but one of my favorites is the Drama Dock Christmas show.

For many years, the venerable community theater group has teamed with Vashon Allied Arts to present a Yule-themed show in the cozy confines of the Blue Heron. If you’re lucky, you’ll know as many people onstage as you do in the audience.

This year, though, Drama Dock has come up with a real gift of a show, one I wish could be unwrapped every year.

It’s an adaptation of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” a Dylan Thomas short story that soars, roars and could probably blow the true spirit of the holiday back into the most bah-humbugged heart.

Vashon Allied Arts Youth Chorus, directed by Marita Ericksen, and a Celtic choir, directed by Elizabeth Nye, open the show with a program of holiday music that sets the stage for the main event. Accompanied by harp and piano, the choral music is simple, evocative and very lovely.

Then comes the play, the brainchild of Island newcomer Michael Barker, who adapted the story and directed the show. Barker — a veteran theater artist who I hope brings many more theatrical events to Vashon — has ably filled the stage with an ensemble cast of 12 fine performers who range in age from 10 to ... well, much older than that.

Gathered on a set filled with such homespun things as a Christmas tree, a rocking chair, a quilt-topped bed and other accouterments of a time gone by, the cast filled the stage, taking on the roles of a loving, eccentric, extended family — one speaking after another, in turns — to tell Thomas’ beautiful, sentimental tale.

Barker’s staging and his divvying up of the lines of the story were ingenious, truly turning Thomas’ prose into a work of vibrant, living theater.

All the actors are wonderful, but since it’s Christmas, it only seems appropriate to single out the kids in the show for special praise — Sarah Hotchkiss, Alivia Jones, Lily Robinthal and Allysan Tuel hold tight to the true magic of the “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” in their performances. They were all totally believable as children in a slowed down, pre-wired world where Christmas held such delights as opening gifts of hand-knitted mittens and simple toys, and watching in wonder as the adults around them let down their guard to sip elderberry wine and smoke fat cigars after dinner.

The real star of the show, of course, is Dylan Thomas. What a writer! To hear to his words is like taking a warm bath in all the power and possibilities of the English language, and to experience “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” is to remember, in a rush, the enchantment that used to fill one long late December day each year when you were young.

Listen to Thomas’ take on the fluffy white stuff we never get to see often enough on Vashon:

"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."

Or listen to Thomas describe the “useless gifts” of a child’s Christmas — not today’s plastic dolls or electronic gadgets, but instead, “Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds.”

"A Child's Christmas in Wales" is filled with passages like that — highfalutin, gloriously exalted language that somehow captures all the drama, longing, joy and even some of the sadness of the season.

Kudos to Drama Dock for giving island audiences a chance to partake in this feast of beautiful words.

 

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” will be performed again at the Blue Heron at 3 p.m. Tuesday and 7:30 p.m. Thursday. A performance scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday has been cancelled. To buy tickets ($10 and $15) in advance, call 463-5131

 

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