Monday, November 17, 2014

theatre review A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES, Grand Canyon University Nov. 14

To read my review at Talkin' Broadway, click here.

Ryan Usher
Nostalgic, childhood remembrances of a simpler time are at the core of Dylan Thomas'A Child's Christmas in Wales. Thomas' magical story from 1952 of one perfect Christmas was adapted for the stage over thirty years ago and Grand Canyon University has produced a beautiful early holiday present for us all with their superb production of the play.

Thomas' original story, adapted by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell, covers one Christmas in young Dylan Thomas' life and his encounters with the rich, vibrant characters in his South Wales hometown. Full of innocence and imagination, Thomas narrates the events of that Christmas, and the events come to life, including the creative games he plays with his friends out in the snow, and the songs, tales and ghost stories his extended family sing and tell around the Christmas tree. Not much happens during the play, and that's the point. It is a simple story, with lively characters, fun situations, and a look back at how pure and joyful the holiday of Christmas was. It is also a remembrance of how simple the time was before the advent of modern technology took the shared experience of family get-togethers away. With no television, computers, video games or electronic devices to distract us, spending holidays with family were full of imagination and personal connections between people.

With wide eyes and an inquisitive nature, Ryan Usher exudes youthful innocence as Dylan. Usher achieves the right sense of childlike exuberance but balances it with an appropriate fond remembrance as the older Dylan for the narration segments. It is an exquisite performance.

There isn't a weak link in the cast. With each actor bringing fine details to their roles, it is easy to tell the characters apart, which is extremely helpful with such a large cast. As Dylan's parents, Devyn Garrett and Jeremiah Byrne display a lovely connection to each other as well as a parental understanding of the mischievous Dylan. Joy Flatz embodies Dylan's favorite aunt Elieri with a purity and strength. When Elieri brings Dylan one of his most wished for gifts, a magic set complete with magic wand, you sense the bond they have to one another from the expressions they both share at the moment when he opens up the gift.

Joy Flatz and Ryan Usher
Zane Wiles and Amanda Tonkin portray another aunt and uncle of Dylan's. They both create rich characters, with Wiles' take on the grumpy Uncle Tudyr a nice reminder that not everyone loves family get-togethers. Kristina Capra plays their feisty, sour daughter Glenda with a bright, reckless abandonment, and William Wyss portrays Dylan's somewhat feisty, politically focused uncle Glyn with a sweet underlying nature. The rest of the cast playing Dylan's extended family members are all just as good, realistically creating the feeling that they've known each other for years.

As Dylan's three closest friends, Taylor Kortman, Hayden Domenico and Trevor Penzone are rambunctious and full of life. Their hymn to the candy they love is a pure delight. Yet they also speak of more serious topics, like the war, in the exact way you'd think a child would speak of them, with a combination of wonder, confusion and concern.

Director Scott Campbell has Usher and the rest of the cast delivering impeccable Welsh accents seemingly with virtual ease, although at some times the thick realistic accents get in the way of clearly understanding what they are saying. Campbell also effectively uses a trio of carolers to cover two large scene change moments, which helps to speed the moments along.

William H. Symington's set design features a series of two-sided brick walled columns that rotate for the scenes inside and outside of the house and a childlike painted three-dimensional backdrop of the village. It's simple yet rich and effective, just like the play. With an abundance of rich patterns and fabrics, Nola Yergen's costumes are exquisite and plentiful. Her dresses for Dylan's mom and aunts are beautiful. Claude Pensis' lighting is rich and effective, nicely portraying the bright outdoor scenes and the dark nighttime indoor ones.

Full of prose, rhymes, songs and carols, GCU's A Child's Christmas in Wales is a magical Christmas family dinner of love and charm. With a perfect cast, rich creative designs, and sure-footed direction it is a family get together that you won't want to miss and won't want to end.

A Child's Christmas in Wales performs at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre through November 23rd, 2014. The theatre is located at 3300 W. Camelback Road in Phoenix and ticket and performance information can be found at or by calling (602) 639-8880.

Photo: Darryl Webb / Grand Canyon University

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