It may come as a shock to some that Christmas is only a few weeks away. The unseasonably warm weather late last month certainly hasn’t helped conjure images of sipping eggnog by the warmth of a yule log fire.

But Christmas cheer is definitely in the air at the Lucid Stage. The American Irish Repertory Ensemble is jump-starting the holiday season with the festive “A Celtic Christmas.”

The two-part production celebrates the Celtic traditions of the yuletide season. Act One is a staging of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” a classic poem by Welsh writer Dylan Thomas. The second half is an original production, “The Legend of the Wren,” conceived by Tony and Susan Reilly, AIRE’s artistic and managing directors.

A green and white, simply rendered town, with wisps of smoke billowing whimsically out the chimneys, greeted patrons Friday night as they packed into the intimate theater. All was dusted and blanketed with artificial snow.

As the play began, lights appeared behind the village, magically twinkling like stars in a darkened night. And with the dawning of the house lights, the audience was whisked away into the Christmastime adventures of three Welsh children: Dylan, Jim and Caitlin.

Two groups of young actors are alternating in the roles throughout the production’s run. Owen Doane (Dylan), Evan Laukli (Jim) and Grier Miskell (Caitlin) performed in Friday’s performance.

The revelry unfolded in lyrical prose, with seasoned actors Corey Gagne, Susan Reilly, Tony Reilly and Cheryl Reynolds providing narration. They also stepped into various character roles as ensemble members.

Caroling sock-puppet cats, a human snowman (Gagne), a juggling postman (Matiss Duhon) and men “with big pipes blazing and windblown scarfs” were a few of the fantastical sights the children encountered in Thomas’ nostalgic, anecdotal retelling of Christmases past.

Traditional carols such as “I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In)” and “The Holly and the Ivy” added to the fun-filled whimsy of the production.

The cast returned after a 15-minute intermission to deliver the theater’s brand-new holiday tradition, “The Legend of the Wren,” based on an old-time St. Stephen’s Day (Dec. 26) tradition. Using the exploits of the “wren boys,” played by Doane, Laukli and Miskell, the production wove an engaging Christmastime tale, steeped in Irish culture.

As the children went from house to house collecting money to “bury the wren,” they encountered a colorful array of characters and talented performers that included a storyteller (Gagne), a juggler (Duhon) and a fiddle player (Jaime Eller).

Duhon provided a thoroughly entertaining interlude. His three-part performance began with him juggling, in the dark, three lighted balls that created a visually stunning effect.

He then challenged himself to juggle three objects offered by the audience: car keys, a pillow and a child’s shoe. The performance culminated with him dazzling the audience with gravity-defying tricks done with a diabolo.

As the production wound to a close, the cast of characters gathered around the fireplace to tell jokes, dance, sing and tell stories. Rebecca Hitchcock provided accompaniment on bodhran and Tony Reilly, on acoustic guitar, lead the audience in a rousing rendition of “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake.”

Doane Laukli and Miskell delivered a sweet rendition of “Silent Night” in English and Gaelic before settling down for “The Children of Lear,” a story told by Susan Reilly and danced beautifully by Irish step dancers from the Stillson School of Irish Dance.

“A Celtic Christmas” is a family-friendly production that recalls a simpler time of childhood memories and Celtic tradition. It’s an enchanting way to welcome the holiday season and wish everyone Nollaig Shona Daoibh (Merry Christmas to you) and Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise Daoibh (Happy New Year to you).

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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