By Beti Trauth
'Tis the season, indeed, to be jolly! And, one of the best ways to have a good laugh during the holidays is by attending Dell'Arte's annual, touring Christmas show.
Coming to a venue near you, this year's highly-anticipated, traditionally madcap production more than lives up to audience expectations by being both zany and tongue-in-cheek, cutting-edge current.
Titled "The Nutcaper," the plot re-imagines some of the classic characters of Tchaikovsky's beloved Christmas ballet, "The Nutcracker," cleverly inventing an after-story featuring the Rat King, three of his previously loyal mouse followers, and The Nutcracker himself.
Introducing, and interjected throughout the show, are specific excerpts from the famous score (using a pre-recorded classical orchestra), that director Joan Schirle has chosen to highlight the hilarious highjinks of her wacky ensemble.
The plot follows what happens when the poor, hungry mice are about to be evicted from their leased (from landlord, the Rat King) mouse hole for failing to pay their rent. It's the day before Christmas Eve, and that's when they will be kicked out by the definitely dirty rat.
He's too busy making money for a company he's started by selling the nuts he has cracked by his prisoner, The Nutcracker. The mice have been told he's a "Mousecracker," so, initially, they're too afraid to go to their landlord/king's mansion with their plea to not be turned out of their home.
The king, so far, has kept his hostage working for him by promising a bogus salary that can never be paid off for his freedom. However, without giving away all of the action that occurs when the determined mice sneak into the mansion, let's just say that a really big, valuable, impossible-to-crack nut finally saves the day for the three rodents and their new friend, The Nutcracker.
Although interwoven with some nifty zingers about the current "Occupy" movement, the show stays true to its pratfall roots of Dell'Arte physical comedy to constantly delight. And, the spritely dance choreography for the fleet-footed ensemble (created by Laura Munoz) is a joy to behold.
Equally enchanting are the fabulous, funny character costumes designed by Lydia Foreman. The actors obviously have a ball just wearing them -- and use them to enhance every movement they make. Wonderful!
Portraying the mice are Meridith Anne Baldwin as the sweetly silly Anesthesia; Rachel Brown as the out-spoken Truman; and Meghan Frank as bold, down-home Biscuits. Pratik Motwani is a smarmy riot as the Rat King, and Myque Franz's Nutcracker stands tall as the lovable champion for mice-rights.
Technically, the production was designed to travel by Daniel Spencer -- who ingeniously uses a series of wooden boxes and reversible screens to set and change scenes. (Production and stage manager is Kristin Shumaker.)
The lighting was designed by Michael Foster; the sound by Tim Gray; and the exaggerated props were designed and constructed by Rolin Foreman, Frank and Motwani.
Dance captain is Baldwin; fight arranger was Franz; and Donald Forrest was slapstick and fight coach. The special, additional choreography is attributed to Michael Peters and Michael Jackson (you'll recognize it when it's performed). It's a hoot!
The entire show is as nutty as a fruitcake, thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, and blessed with a reasonably short running time for restless kids (and no intermission). But, the best thing about Dell'Arte's "The Nutcaper" is its underlying message for people of all ages: "Friendship conquers all."
Get information about running dates at venues throughout the county (including curtain times and ticket prices, if not free) and local business locations for free tickets, at: www.dellarte.com
Or, call 668-5663 to make advance (paid) reservations for concluding shows at Dell'Arte, Dec. 15-18. Audiences for all performances throughout the run, whenever and where ever they see the show, are encouraged to bring non-perishable food goods that will be distributed to local food banks.
The "Nutcaper" is Dell' Arte Theatre's answer to the cherished "Nutcracker" story. They will perform on Dec. 6 at the Mateel in Redway, and on Dec. 7 at the Winema Theatre in Scotia.