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FairfaxOn Stage: Holiday theater production evokes a simpler time

On Stage: Holiday theater production evokes a simpler time

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“A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Vienna Theatre Company’s latest show, may pose something of a mystery for younger audiences.

Instead of wading through piles of wrapping paper to play with a heap of cheap Chinese-made toys before immersing themselves, zombie-like, in their electronic games and devices, children in this Dylan Thomas story do quaint things that decades ago were considered normal.

Like flirting, punching each other, dancing, singing, playing communal games, enjoying gifts in their Christmas stockings and imitating the local constable’s duck-like walk behind his back.

The adults are almost equally freewheeling, sipping alcohol, telling jokes, doing the can-can and ribbing each other over trivial matters and politics. When a show’s production crew includes a “rugby coach,” you know fun is going to ensue!

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Directed by Jessie Roberts, the play basically is a series of the playwright/poet’s reminiscences of childhood Christmases in Swansea, Wales, as recalled through time’s forgiving fog. Adapted for the stage by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell, the show consists of little vignettes of action and plenty of good-hearted singing.

Sarah Cusenza maintains an enjoyable, charismatic presence throughout the play as author-protagonist Dylan Thomas. Dylan is boisterous, good-natured and bold and seeks a three-speed bicycle, magic set and dog for his Christmas gifts.

Dylan also receives help in mischief from two friends (played by Porter Welch and A.J. Murray) and loving support from his mother (Kathy Ohlhaber) and father (Matt Baughman). Ohlhaber’s character delights in family members’ discovery of charms she put in the pudding, despairs when her turkey comes out of the oven burnt (occasioning a visit from the fire brigade) and rages after the family engages in a rugby scrum inside the house.

The sexes play old-fashioned roles here. The aunts (played by Sally Cusenza, Jennifer Levy, Carleigh Jones and Shayne Gardner) handle domestic tasks and are less assertive than the uncles (performed by Chad Murray, Jon Robert and Gregory Patti), who lounge about drinking spirits and smoking cigars. The men also play a park keeper, postman and constable, respectively.

The girls (Julia Leipertz and Abigail DeGennaro) are a bit more timid than the rambunctious boys, but get in some quality shots – both physical and verbal – with the little troublemakers.

This being a small theater company, the performers and production staff often perform double duty. The Cusenzas also are the show’s hair and makeup designers, director Jessie Roberts also plays the flute and her husband, Jon, in addition to handling dual roles on stage, plays guitar and serves as the play’s production and sound designer.

The actors wear clear-plastic masks because of the pandemic, but these are not distracting and do not hamper their ability to sing. The set consists of a table, some chairs, several white-painted cubes for the actors to perch themselves upon and a screen in the back, onto which are projected holiday images.

The lack of a traditional plot with events proceeding logically from start to finish, plus a surfeit of characters to sort out, requires some additional audience attention in the first act, but once one gets into the spirit of the play and the holiday it celebrates, it becomes a pleasure to watch.

The company will perform “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” on Dec. 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. for a ticket price of $15 and offer shorter matinee performances for families and children on Dec. 18 at 10 a.m. and Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. at a ticket cost of $10.

Tickets may be purchased online at viennava.gov/webtrac or in person at the Vienna Community Center during normal hours of operation. For more information, visit www.viennatheatrecompany.org.

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