With five chairs, a fireplace, a piano, and two lighted trees, the Irish Repertory Theatre's intimate downstairs space is overdressed for Christmas. Behold the cheery setting for this patchwork seasonal entertainment adapted and directed by the indefatigable Charlotte Moore. With John Bell at the piano, a quintet of young performers enters: two girls in red velvet and three men in tuxedos. They are Kerry Conte, Bonnie Fraser, Justin Packard, Joshua Park, and Ashley Robinson, and you couldn't wish for a more talented and attractive group to turn up in your living room.
As if there was a need for an American quotient to the evening, for starters there's Clement Moore's poem " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," delivered in stentorian tones by Packard with musical accompaniment. At last we arrive at "A Child's Christmas in Wales," with Dylan Thomas' lush images of a long-ago world cascading through the air. Crisply spoken, the language is delightful to the ear. But, alas, the poem is insufficient in length, so director Moore has tricked out the poetry with song, ranging from traditional carols to popular Christmas favorites. A line like "Can the fish see it's snowing?" introduces "Do You See What I See?" -- you get the idea. Some of the musical intrusions prove artistically jarring, with the unworthy result of a diluted Thomas. Competing with the Welshman are -- to name but a few -- Jerry Herman, Leroy Anderson, Victor Herbert, Jule Styne, and Moore herself.
Happily, all five performers sing well, and one of the evening's real pleasures is hearing unmiked voices raised in melodic harmony. That's a Christmas present in itself. The other great pleasure is hearing Thomas' extravagant imagery. His are pictures to savor: snow "shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky"; a postman "with a rose on his button nose tingled down the tea-tray slithered run." All the performers bring life to the verse, with Park especially good in relishing the deliciousness of his given words.
Presented by and at the Irish Repertory Theatre,
132 W. 22nd St., NYC.
Dec. 13 - 30. Wed. - Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat., and Sun., 3 p.m.
(212) 727 -2737 or www.irishrep.org.