Photo by John Beane

Insurgo Theater Movement debuted a new version of what is becoming a classic tragicomedy clown “Nutcracker” Dec. 19-Jan. 7 at the Plaza, this year including two glib, flightless birds as protagonists.

The show opens witha a strategically lit set made of plastic, draped and stapled to the back of the stage. A frosty, arctic climate is the setting, as it turns out; a white stage and two waddling penguins (Michelle Meyer and Melanie Ash) confirm the locale.

Comical exchanges between the birds comprise the bulk of the show, but it is no less poignant because of this. Sweetness abounds, and the appearance of a dashingly dressed — and superbly acted — Nutcracker (Brandon Oliver Jones) provides yet another avenue for wordless warm fuzzies.

The plot itself is Insurgo nuance at its best. A Nutcracker mysteriously appears in an enormous gift-wrapped box and decks out a chilly set with Christmas cheer. Penguins cavort, Santa’s jolly offstage presence is implied and, especially for an offbeat production, the show ends optimistically.

However, stealthily woven throughout the plot is a thread of references to such issues as overfishing and ocean pollution. Suffice it to say that a hungry penguin gnawing on a plastic bottle isn’t 100 percent funny, and it probably wasn’t intended to be. It’s clear that director John Beane and assistant director Daneal Doerr have some big topics on their minds, but this does little to dampen the whimsy of the show.

From a choreographic standpoint, “The Insurgo Nutcracker” is spot-on. Clutzy, cuddling penguins carom around the small stage, bumbling into each other, the  Nutcracker and various inanimate objects. The effect is darling and makes for  most entertaining versions of “Nutcracker” classics like “Waltz of the Flowers” and the snow scene from George Balanchine’s original. And with a 40-minute running time, the production is accessible to all but the most staunch of Scrooges.

Needless to say, this might not make the list for balletomanes. However, for the rest of us, “The Insurgo Nutcracker” warrants recognition as a holiday tradition in the making. Sugarplum is nice, but until you’ve seen a pique-turning penguin in a tutu, you have yet to witness the full embodiment of “sweet.”

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