Written by John Sturgeon and Virginia DeMoss, “Somberton Senior Residence Presents ‘The Nutcracker,’” directed by Lauren Nave for the Found Theatre, is not your usual Nutcracker. Not by a long stretch. There are no lithe bodies, no evocative sets, and no sense of awe that accompanies traditional approaches to the production. But it is, nonetheless, a perfect Christmas present: memorable characters (with outrageous acting), a clever idea for a holiday-themed script, and some splendid staging. The result is a string of Senior Moments strung together to last a whopping and hilarious ninety minutes.
If you’ve never attend a Found production you might conclude that the production is – how to put it? – idiosyncratic. Veterans know, however, that it’s just another fine example of the Found’s patent lock on endearing and unbelievably believable absurdity.
Personalities are quickly established in the first few moments. In one corner skulks Wanda (DeMoss), crotchety, spoiling for a fight. In a sofa dozes out-of-it Frances (Beverly Shields). When the phone ring she wakes up and sings Judy Garland show tunes, hence her nickname, Judy. Wandering around is one catatonic X (Monique Hilliard), preternaturally sweet, delightfully oblivious. Laura Bosworth’s Rose reminds you of the Rain Man, Sturgeon’s Stanley Ferris reminds you of Albin in “La Cage Au Folles.” The ringleader of this geriatric circus is Nurse Jessica (Claire Sharp, stand in for Joyce Hackett), administratively stern, one big Grinch.
God knows what Nurse Jessica would have planned for a Somberton Senior Residence Christmas if it hadn’t been for the appearance of Harrison Weinstein (Kevin Gillespie), about a fifth of the age of the residents. He’s there to perform community service but, instead of reading or otherwise ministering to them, he decides – What was he thinking? - to stage the Nutcracker. The premise alone is funny enough. Anticipation of this production-within-a-production (Will they pull it off?) and, finally, its realization, will keep you laughing until your sides ache and your heart goes pitter pat.
The staging is brilliant. The experience (You don’t see a play at the Found, you experience it) begins on Long Beach Boulevard, extends into the lobby, and out into the seats. You’re greeted out front by characters in-character. One of them hands you medicine (candy) in a Dixie cup. One wag asked, “Do you have any blue ones?” “Why no, sir,” the Nurse rejoined, “they’re a hot item here, as you might imagine.” Another offers to inoculate you with God-knows-what. Inside the errant and peripatetic X wanders up into the audience. They were always talking, usually to no one in particular. Each character just marches to the beat of his or her own Little Drummer Boy. You didn’t feel sorry for them, you felt sorry for young Harrison, who had to order the chaos.
Performances are 8:30 PM, Fri. & Sat. There are two matinees, 2 PM, Jan. 9 & 16. The show runs until Dec. 18 and from Jan. 7 – 22. Tickets are $15. The Theatre is located at 599 Long Beach Blvd. For more information call 433-3363 or visit www.foundtheatre.org.