Tag Archive: daneal doerr


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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What do two clowns, a nutcracker doll and a rock version of Tchaikovsky’s “Sugarplum Fairy” theme have in common? They were all part of the “Nutcracker” vignette that took place from Dec. 17-19 and 21-22 at the Insurgo Bastard Theater.

A cast of three (Sandy Stein, Breon Jenay and Michelle Meyer) presented the 45-minute show in wordless, exaggerated and, indeed, comical style. The crew (Geo Nikols, Daneal Doerr, Brandon Jones and director John Benae) ran the tech side of the show smoothly.

No bones were made about this being classically-inspired; a few of the key story elements stayed the same, but the vast majority of it was a product of the minds at Insurgo. It was a very comgenial compromise: if we’re only allowed to have one holiday ballet, making it clown-ridden, unorthodox and avante garde was a welcome change.

Based on a simple story, the plot followed two hard-bitten but endearing characters, a man and a girl he discovered in a dumpster, living on the streets. A boom-box, circa 1980, cranked out music while each danced in turn, trying to one-up the other and proffering a hat hopefully at the end of each routine.

Before long, both characters had bedded down in blue twilight and the girl set about exploring the man’s camp. A heavy-metal version of the familiar “Sugarplum” theme heralded the arrival of a nutcracker doll that the girl pulled out of the dumpster in the corner. The classic child-falling-in-love-with-a-toy story commenced.

Eventually, the man disappeared offstage and took the doll with him, leaving a hysterical girl begging alone. When a pack of rats (but no, not the Rat Pack) invaded the camp, a fully alive nutcracker bounded out of the dumpster and came to her rescue, also bearing a small tree, gifts, long tangles of wrapping paper and a shoebox of snow.

After the nutcracker heel-clicked leprechaun-style to a few of the original Tchaikovsky variations, the girl fell asleep to the lullaby of the “Arabian” theme and the nutcracker disappeared back into the dumpster. The girl woke up, alone once again, and the rats, like any persistent villains, returned shortly thereafter.

The epic battle between the nutcracker the the mouse king took place in one of the most action-packed areas of the set: the dumpster. As in the ballet, the nutcracker vanquished over the rodent and tragicomedy-clown-fantasy sanity was restored. After a moment of silent suspense, the man emerged from the dumpster with the nutcracker doll in hand, much to the delight of the girl.

What the story lacked in depth was absolutely made up for by vivid characters. Stein and Jenay both did an exceptional job with no lines to speak of (or to speak at all, actually) and the show was nonetheless enlivened by their gregarious acting.

There was no party scene, no Kingdom of Snow and no Land of Sweets populated by gumdrops and marzipan. However, Insurgo’s take on the Christmas classic is a valid addition to the holiday scene in Las Vegas. After all, if we an call hookers on the Strip dressed up as Santa festive, then “A Nutcracker: a tragicomedy clown fantasy” can certainly be included.

For ticket information, visit insurgotheater.org or call (702) 771-7331. Bring canned goods for $1 off the ticket price per can, up to five per ticket.