note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Generally, the holidays are a season to be jolly, for rejoicing, but for many, they’re also a season of sadness and loss.
This year, especially, the news blasts us with reports of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other outposts. Black banners and yellow ribbons hang sadly outside public and residential buildings as a reminder of those who died, fighting fanaticism and despotism, protecting us and our right to freedom.
Phillip Klapperich and Jake Minton’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s beloved holiday tale of “The Nutcracker” created by the House Theatre of Chicago, is a contemporary new take on the classic tale that combines magic, mysticism and realism with the holiday spirit.
Klapperich and Minton have set their story in today’s America, when young Marine Fritz is expected home for Christmas. His mom, dad, and younger sister Clara have completed preparations for their annual Christmas Eve party. The guests have arrived, silently greeting each other and dancing together. Suddenly, a loud knock at the door shatters the festivities.
Instead of Fritz, soldiers hand his mother a folded flag and his sword. She collapses. His father’s head is bowed. The guests retreat, and the family is left to mourn, alone.
Their pain hangs heavily, stifling all holiday joy. Clara retreats to her room, with her favorite, large rag doll, Phoebe; her stuffed monkey, and Hugo, the metallic toy robot Great-Uncle Erich Drosselmeyer brought her for Christmas.
The scene fast-forwards to next year, when, to Clara’s dismay, her parents have disavowed celebrating Christmas. But when Uncle Drosselmeyer arrives, unannounced, from his far-flung globe-trotting, to celebrate Christmas with the family, magic pierces the heavy atmosphere.
Uncle Drosselmeyer has brought Clara a special get-ready-for-Christmas gift - a nutcracker that eerily looks like her brother, Fritz, but with a black mustache, and wearing his Marine uniform. At midnight, as Clara leaves her nutcracker on the floor, the air bristles, crackles with thunderclaps. The door opens, and suddenly there’s Fritz, unaware of what happened to him or how he arrived home.
Fritz, Clara, and her now life-sized, walking, talking, dancing toys- Monkey, Phoebe, and Hugo, have two overwhelming battles ahead of them - to restore the spirit of Christmas and rid the house of rat monsters and the demonic rat king.
It’s tough to figure out why the rats strongly resemble Clara and Fritz’s parents, but have British accents; the monkey has a French accent; and the Rat King looks like Uncle Erich, who is trying to restore Christmas for the family.
Sirena Abalian as Clara produces magic of her own, especially in touching scenes with her beloved brother, Fritz, (nicely portrayed by accomplished Danny Bryck), and Uncle Drosselmeyer, whom William Gardiner portrays with elegance and mystique. Meagan Hawkes as Clara’s mother, and a rat, and Mark Linehan as her father and fellow rat add dramatic clout, while Alycia Sacco as Phoebe, Grant MacDermott as Monkey and Nick Sulfaro as Hugo add spritzes of humor. Young Molly Geaney and Julian Schepis round out the cast.
Music Director Matthew Stern and his three musicians, along with lighting-scenic designer Christopher Ostrom and sound designer John Stone intensify the play’s darkness.
Director Caitlin Lowans has captured “The Nutcracker’s” intent, from its gloomy beginning, to its enlightening ending. It isn’t meant for small children, though. It’s dark, scary, dealing with the death of a loved one and its aftermath, during the holidays.
Musical vignettes and foolishness with the toys, creating mayhem in the kitchen, delights little ones in the audience, but is also a jarring contrast.
Sometimes, not all things are cheery. Sometimes, not all fantasy is filled with visions of sugar plum fairies dancing around. And sometimes, children must relate to and understand adults‘ need to grieve, to mourn. to remember. That’s what this “Nutcracker,” with all its lights, chimes, magic, and demons, delivers.
BOX INFO: Two-act play, written by Phillip Klapperich and Jake Minton, adapted from Hoffman’s classic tale, making its New England premiere at the Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham, through Dec. 22. Showtimes: Fridays, 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 10, at 1,8 p.m.; Dec. 17, 1,5 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Dec. 22, 7 p.m. Tickets, $44-$48; senior discount, student tickets, $20; senior/student discount matinees. Check for related events, Appearing in tandem through Dec. 23 is holiday comedy, “Sister’s Christmas Catechism,” starring Denise Fennell, same ticket prices. For more information, visit www.stonehamtheatre.org or call the Box Office at 781-279-2200.