Magazine article The New Yorker

The Theatre

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Theatre

Article excerpt



Works by Dylan Thomas and Thornton Wilder conjure holidays past.

The language around christmas is usually pretty treacly, as befits the season. But future writers should remember that one of the amazing things about the holiday's ur-text, Charles Dickens's 1843 novella, "A Christmas Carol," is that it's pretty grim, that is to say realistic, when it comes to depicting Scrooge's past and Tiny Tim's present. Without Dickens's eye and ear for extreme emotional and fiscal predicaments, the story's more fantastic moments wouldn't have the weight of truth. It is that balance--between emotional forthrightness and plain good old-fashioned invention--that makes Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales" (presented by the Irish Rep at the DR2 Theatre, through Jan. 3) and Thornton Wilder's beautiful short plays "The Long Christmas Dinner" and "Pullman Car Hiawatha" (presented by the Peccadillo Theatre Company at Theatre at St. Clement's, Dec. 3-Jan. 3) enduring works, too.

Thomas's piece, a forty-five-minute prose poem, sounds like a cello when read aloud, deep and playful. Cobbled together from earlier writings, Thomas's reminiscence about his post-First World War childhood in Wales--when "all the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea"--has the value of lived experience, and humor. Encouraged, in 1952, by two women producers to record it, Thomas arrived unprepared and apparently overserved in the liquor department for the session, but it's his voice that we still associate with the work. The recording sold modestly at first; the book, published posthumously in 1954, went on to become his most popular work in America.

As an example of how meaning is not divisible from sound, Thomas's script affords actors the opportunity to emote through speech rather than behavior; the words are their gestures. And, while Wilder's scripts were written twenty years before Thomas hit the mike, there's something equally free in Wilder's depiction of how memory informs and misinforms the individual, how it binds and separates family in particular, and society in general. The reality that Thomas and Wilder offer us is filtered through memory and the self-absorption that comes with being--and the music that comes with it, too.


China Doll

Al Pacino returns to Broadway in a new play by David Mamet, directed by Pam MacKinnon, as a man with a large fortune and a young fiancee. In previews. Opens Dec. 4. (Schoenfeld, 236 W. 45th St. 212-239-6200.)

The Color Purple

Jennifer Hudson, Cynthia Erivo, and Danielle Brooks star in a revival of the 2005 musical, based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and directed by John Doyle. In previews. (Jacobs, 242 W. 45th St. 212-239-6200.)

Fiddler on the Roof

Danny Burstein plays Tevye, the shtetl patriarch, in Bartlett Sher's revival of the 1964 musical, based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem. In previews. (Broadway Theatre, Broadway at 53rd St. 212-239-6200.)


Vineyard Theatre presents a new musical by Matthew roi Berger, Randy Blair, and Tim Drucker, about a boy who goes to weight-loss camp in Pennsylvania. In previews. Opens Dec. 3. (Acorn, 410 W. 42nd St. 212-239-6200.)

Invisible Thread

Diane Paulus directs Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews's musical, in which a young New Yorker volunteers in Uganda. Opens Dec. 2. (Second Stage, 305 W. 43rd St. 212-246-4422.)


Ivo van Hove directs a new musical by David Bowie and Enda Walsh, inspired by "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and starring Michael C. Hall, Cristin Milioti, and Michael Esper. In previews. Opens Dec. 7. (New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St. 212-460-5475.)

Marjorie Prime

In Jordan Harrison's play, directed by Anne Kauffman and set in the near future, an elderly woman uses artificial intelligence to review her life story. In previews. (Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. …

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