Watching Really Scary Rat (Brenda Barrie) and Quite Scary Rat (Benjamin Sprunger) twitch whiskers and tails as they prance about the stage taunting audience and story lead Clara (Paige Collins) with Cockney accented trash talk is in itself more than worth the price of admission.
It’s all the more amazing that it seemed to be just seconds before when we saw these same very talented actors as the somber bereaved parents who learned of their young soldier son’s passing the prior Christmas Eve.
Those sorts of quick changes and range of emotions keeps The House Theatre’s “Nutcracker” able to make children of all ages engaged and enchanted.
Add larger than life rat puppets, dolls (Johnny Arena, Jason Grimm, and Christine Mayland Perkins) frolicking with gusto and choice one-liners, a perfect set that moves you into nightmare dreams when the time comes, and costumes that delight.
What you get is the House Theatre formula: this is the power of imagination taking you on a romp of joy, even if the central story is dealing with the more adult topic of coping with loss, which it is.
If you are that breed of parent that thinks that the fairy tales that fed the imagination of so many generations of children are too violent for your child you’re probably best served with a half-hearted advisory to stay away from this show.
More accurately, you should know that the subject matter of loss and bereavement sure seemed to go way over the heads of those who were too young to take it in. What seemed clear to most of the younger children in the theater was the lure of fake snow for making snow angels during intermission.
The musical accompaniment (composed by Kevin O’Donnell) added to the holiday magic, although the voices at work were not the strongest.
Let’s hope that The House Theatre keeps up this annual holiday tradition of presenting this version of "The Nutcracker" by Jake Minton and Phillip Klapperich based on the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Let’s hope too that the imaginative direction of House Company Member Tommy Rapley continues to set this high bar for entertainment.
This year you can see “The Nutcracker” until December 29 at the Chopin Theatre (1543 West Division Street, Chicago, IL).
Thursdays, Fridays, & Saturdays at 7:30 PM
Sundays at 3:00 and 7:00 PM
Additional performances Monday 12/23 at 7:00 PM and added 3:00 PM Matinees on Saturdays 12/14, 12/21 and 12/28.
For tickets call 773 769 3832 or visit The House Theatre website.
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Photos by Michael Brosilow