Dylan Thomas’s poem A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES runs the risk of becoming sticky-sweet with nostalgia, and it is director Sebastienne Mundheim’s idiosyncratic vision, and the spot-on instincts of her actors, which create a package of purity, innocence, novelty and genius enjoyable by both children and adults. Seriously, though—we always say that kids’ shows are good for adults, but what’s enjoyable here is watching the actors skate the line between their obvious adult status and the childish narrative and find a goofy in-between ingenuity. A heartwarming holiday evening, WALES has the charm of a trippy Charlie Brown Christmas.
Admirers of the Lantern Theater’s skillful work will be pleased to see them stretching their artistic vocabulary. The Philly theatrical mainstays tend to adhere to naturalism and its conventions, putting—as much as possible—ballrooms and gardens on stage when there are ballrooms and gardens in the script. Mundheim, an installation artist and director who has collaborated with the likes of New Paradise Labs and Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, constructs a world out of smoke and clouds and water bottles. These suggestive chunks of memory, some drawn out of Thomas’s poem and some out of invention, create a snowy white playground. Her priority is fluidity; rather than putting down floorboards and walls for interior scenes, and spraying fake snow for exteriors, Mundheim uses the trendy and flexible media of puppetry and toy theater to reduce and expand the scenes from micro- to macroscopic. We are in a dream state, a highly pleasing and surprising one free of pauses and distracting scene changes. December 5, 2013-January 5, 2014, lanterntheater.org.