By Martin F. Kohn
For its holiday offering, “If Only in My Dreams,” Blackbird Theatre has strung together a quartet of seasonal stories by Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote, Dylan Thomas and Roch Carrier, which raises a question.
The answer is this:
Roch Carrier is a Canadian writer so famous in his home and native land that the beginning of his story “The Hockey Sweater” appears on the back of Canada’s five-dollar bill. The American equivalent would be the guy who wrote “In God we trust.”
Blackbird Theatre trusts in the talents of Barton Bund and William Myers to portray Kerouac, Capote, Thomas and Carrier as each tells his story. That trust is well justified.
Directed by Michael Williams, the evening is structured much like a Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert, with the principal work in the second spot, before intermission. That would be Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” For an hour Myers retells in the author’s pinched and idiosyncratic voice his dear, autobiographical tale about his 7-year-old self and his eccentric, elderly cousin making fruitcakes for people whose lives intersect only tangentially with theirs.
After intermission Myers returns completely transformed. Now a hockey coach, with jersey, clipboard and French Canadian accent, Myers recounts “The Hockey Sweater,” Carrier’s short, humorous story of a boy in Quebec who receives a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater by mistake, instead of one representing his beloved Montreal Canadiens.
Bookending the program, Bund first portrays a boozy Kerouac whirling out a stream-of consciousness riff, “Visions of Gerard,” about his little brother dying at Christmas in their hometown of Lowell, Mass. And a merry Christmas to you, too.
Bund wraps things up with the considerably cheerier, and easier to follow, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” delivered in the rich, British tones of Dylan Thomas, painting an idealized picture of impossibly white snow, a house filled with benevolent uncles and aunts, of a childhood rich in friends and ordinary traipses transformed by imagination into adventures.
Although each story and each performance stands on its own, Blackbird does them a disservice by having singer Gayle Martin jump in between them to perform a Christmas song. The accompaniment is cheesy karaoke, Martin misses enough notes to fill a Christmas stocking and the songs deprive the dramatic pieces of the contemplative silence they’ve earned.
‘If Only in My Dreams’
Blackbird Theatre, Friday-Sunday through Dec. 6 at 1600 Pauline, Ann Arbor; then Friday-Sunday Dec. 11-13 at SHaut Cabaret and Gallery, 325 Braun Ct., Ann Arbor. $10-$20. 734-332-3848. http://www.blackbirdtheatre.org