A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES AND MORE TALES, Excaliber Shakespeare Company, at Cafe Voltaire. It’s midnight, the day after Thanksgiving, in Cafe Voltaire’s amenity-free basement, midway through Excaliber’s latest literary offering. Six overzealous actors recite Dylan Thomas to an audience of one: me. They try to act like they’re enjoying themselves, while I try to maintain the somewhat pleasant expression that’s been plastered in place for the past hour. The seven of us couldn’t be less comfortable if we were covered with leeches.

Perhaps the tortured dynamics of this command performance (or, more accurately, audition) hopelessly distorted the actors’ work, but Thomas’s lilting words and poetic resonances need a far more delicate touch than this ensemble supplies. They seem to have picked up the relentlessly animated performance style of director, adapter, and occasional narrator Darryl Maximilian Robinson, who could turn a highway pileup into a song and dance. For the most part they disregard the lyricism in Thomas’s familiar portraits of rustic Welsh life in favor of overbroad gestures and inconsistent accents. With the exception of Cat Dean’s careful, understated reading of the murderous “The True Story,” the cast runs roughshod over the nuances that give life to Thomas’s work.

–Justin Hayford