nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
December 11, 2010
Austin McCormick's Nutcracker Rouge takes the classic Nutcracker ballet, spices it with the Red Riding Hood story, and spikes it with a liberal dose of S&M. Godfather Drosselmeyer is a metaphorical (and sometime literal) Big Bad Wolf and young Marie-Claire is an accepting, even enthusiastic, participant in her own defloration.
The production is unconditionally beautiful. Approaching the theatre from the street, the glass door is open and music is playing. Wine and cognac are available in real glasses, with cookies and apples on silver serving platters. The silver-grey curtain hangs quietly, mirrors are everywhere, and the chandeliers are made of branches and fruit. The show begins in the middle of the pre-show party. Drosselmeyer appears and Marie-Claire scampers through and gets her special Christmas nutcracker. A warning: stay close to the stage during the party, because if you end up in the back of the crowd you’ll miss the first few dance numbers. But once Marie-Claire navigates the forest, she reaches the Land of Sweets, the space reconfigures, and the sightlines are perfect.
This “Land of Sweets” is a sadomasochistic dungeon-cum-French-dance-hall. Half-naked dancers writhe and flip for Marie-Claire. Scantily clad women swing whips and dance with blindfolded men. Two male slaves named Licorice cower and flip for Drosselmeyer in high-heeled boots. There’s a cherry-can, and a marzipan dance of colors and craziness. And this Marie-Claire is not the passive ingénue of the children’s ballet—she wants to join the action. Eventually the Nutcracker prince appears, Drosselmeyer gets his last wish, and it may yet still turn out all to be a dream.
Set and costume design are by Zane Philstrom, leading a production crew of at least fifteen. The costumes are sexy, flashy, changing constantly. The scene design is warm and opulent, with deliberate cracks in the illusion as stray ladders are unattended and the cinder-block walls remain in places unadorned. Gina Scherr’s lighting design also plays with theatrical artifice, alternating between the warm magic of the dances and the harsh fluorescents that pop up when the dancers go backstage.
Marie-Claire, beautifully played by Laura Careless, is an Edward Gorey character unaware of whimsy. Hollow-eyed knowingness glares out from her sweet and open face. Yeva Glover, Marisol Cabrera, Mina Lawton, Delphina Parenti, Maria Phelan, David Martinez, Sean Gannon, and Michael Hodge all expertly, athletically, and enthusiastically throw themselves into ninety minutes of nonstop activity, doing the work of twice as many dancers. Narration based on the original E.T.A. Hoffman short story and Charles Perrault’s "Little Red Riding Hood" is written and performed by the charming Jeff Takas as Drosselmeyer.
There are no surprises here, this production is exactly as advertised, but it is a fully realized little holiday bon-bon. And when Marie-Claire screams in protest when the experience is over, it’s easy to understand how she feels.