Seattle Public Theater, 524-1300. Through Dec 24.
THE FUNDAMENTAL creepiness of Seattle Public Theater's presentation of A Child's Christmas in Wales takes almost the entire show before revealing itself. The show begins with piano music and singing by David Mahler and Emily Greenleaf, skips happily through Kevin Purcell's reading of Dylan Thomas' traditional Yuletide story, and slows down for the usual theater-company solicitations and a book quiz before finally plunging into a sing-along of semi-obscure holiday music. Gathered 'round the piano, tunelessly mumbling through an all-Spanish Christmas hymn, the remaining audience members looked like participants in some future century's interactive Christmas exhibit: "Holidays in the Suburban Living Room, 1940-1985." A Child's Christmas in Wales offers the same kind of butt-numbing, good-for-you holiday evening at home you only ever tolerated under the cold final hours of Santa's all-seeing eye.
As a father indulged by a loving family, Kevin Purcell's performance of Thomas' story would be functional and spirited; as a professional explication of text intended to reach an audience of strangers, his reading disappoints. Purcell takes the Children's Television Workshop approach to interpretation. He wraps himself in high-pitched, wispy voices when an auntie or town matron is described; he grumbles with stentorian vigor while reading about an uncle or other authoritative male. Purcell's interpretation does allow children in attendance to better follow the interplay between characters and stick with the narrator's roving eye. But despite a silent, physical introduction meant to establish the dreariness of an adult's holiday season, Purcell's array of voices and exaggerated movements does nothing to convey the story's underlying sadness and beauty, the immersion in a child's-eye view of the world at the expense of the adult's, the ache for simplicity and the need to feel wonder in small, worldly comforts. Singing songs without quite knowing the words is a perfect, unfortunate capstone.