Dylan Thomas’ Christmas Tale Transforms on Stage
Boston Center for the Arts offers alternative to usual holiday fare
In the slide show above, revisit Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” in song, sight, and prose.
Burgess Clark doesn’t want to offend Charles Dickens fans, but he’s seen A Christmas Carol at least two dozen times and he’s a bit sick of it.
“There’s a limited number of holiday plays out there,” says the artistic director of the Boston Children’s Theatre (BCT), “and I thought it was time to write something new.”
The result is A Child’s Christmas in Wales, adapted from the timeless Dylan Thomas story. The first-ever collaboration between BCT and the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, which is part of BU’s Creative Writing Program, the play reimagines the holiday recollections of Wales’ most famous literary figure.
Clark first heard “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” when he was six, and it captivates him to this day. “It sees Christmas through a child’s eyes,” he says. “I think we all become children again during the holidays.”
Blending the mock heroics of childhood with enduring images of holiday rituals, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is a collection of memories — snowballs and squeaky galoshes, fudge and marzipan, tin soldiers and whistles, fires at old Mrs. Prothero’s house. Although lyrically compelling, the memoir has no story arc, and Clark’s challenge was taking fragments of Thomas’ vignettes and piecing them into a coherent narrative.
The play opens with an adult Dylan Thomas, portrayed by Stephen Libby, introducing his family in a flashback. The year is 1923, and nine-year-old Dylan, played by Adam Freeman, is celebrating with his parents, his sister, and aunts and uncles. The adult Dylan stays on stage for most of the play, occasionally interacting with the people from his past.
“By having two versions of Dylan Thomas, we see sort of an abstraction, an amalgamation of him,” says Clark. “We see him not only as a writer, but as a human being.”
Fleshing out the stark characters from Thomas’ 3,000-word story was no easy task. Thomas’ mother, played by Margaret Ann Brady, is warm and endearing, a sharp contrast to her curmudgeon husband, portrayed by Steven Gagliastro. The young Dylan quarrels passionately with his older sister, Nancy (Linnea Schulz), and a gift from his Auntie Dosie (Meagan Hawkes) proves pivotal to the boy’s future. “I’ve heard from several people how much the characters remind them of their own families,” Clark says.
Using photographs from the Hilary Laurie book Dylan Thomas’s Wales, the set designers created exact replicas of portions of Thomas’ house, including the fireplace and a bay window that overlooks the seaside village of Swansea.
“I didn’t want to disappoint the millions of people who grew up loving this piece,” Clark says. “I hope I’ve stayed true — and yet shown them something new — about Dylan Thomas.”
A Child’s Christmas in Wales runs through Wednesday, December 23, at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., Boston. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $28 for students (ID required) and may be purchased online or by phone at 617-933-8600. Performance days and times vary; check the calendar. For more information, call 617-424-6634.
Vicky Waltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.