If the Found Theatre does one thing very well on a regular basis, it presents meaningful stories that totter on the verge of utter and wildly entertaining collapse. It's purposeful, of course. What also collapses is the Fourth Wall between Us and Them. We feel like we're there on stage with the characters. From the moment we enter, we encounter them, mingling - or trying to mingle - with us. Once inside, they engage us. These various interactions prime us for what we’re about to see once the lights go down.
"Somberton Senior Residence Presents: 'The Nutcracker,'" written by John Sturgeon and Virginia DeMoss, directed and choreographed by Lauren Nave, is a case in point. It might be disarmingly sluggish (these senile seniors are in various stages of mental, emotional, and physical collapse). Its storyline might seem impossible - the staging, by the residents of a seniors home, of The Nutcracker. And yet we identify and empathize with each of the characters in a breathtaking way. Best of all, the production’s dramatic entropy so perfectly mirrors the otherwise best-intentioned chaos of our own lives. If you're looking for something endearing, affordable, not mention outré, this production is it.
Let's discuss what makes this such a holiday riot. First, the characters. Their airs may be human but their story's divine. To fulfill a community service obligation, young Kevin Gillespie (Harrison Weinstein) will direct The Nutcracker in the most unlikely place imaginable. Even with the best of resources, it's a daunting task. Here it's like one of the Labors of Hercules. Some of the characters - X (Monique Hilliard) and Frances (Beverly Shields) - are off in their own worlds. The former is, to put it mildly, catatonic; the latter suddenly channels (and startlingly resembles) Judy Garland. Some are grinchy and gnarly - Carl Finch (Ken Bosworth) and Wanda (DeMoss), while others are, let us say, colorful - Orson Olson (Sturgeon) and Rose (Laura Bosworth). Throw in a Nurse Ratched-esque Nurse Jessica (Claire Sharp) and a wisecracking Lupe (Melinda Weinstein) and you’ve got a production-within-a-production that, this season at least, may just be the greatest story ever told.
Director Nave pulls off quite the Christmas miracle. She elicits and then balances the characters' various personalities and idiosyncrasies so to carry the story forward to its hobbling, wobbly and, ultimately triumphant conclusion. I'm still remembering - and laughing at - things that didn't register the first time only because at the time they were superseded by even more outrageous bits. Engaging, hilarious, and brimming, in an unlikely place, with the human comedy, this show rings in the holiday season in the Found’s usual, spirited manner.
Performances start up again on January 6 and run until the 21st, 8:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., January 8 & 22. Tickets are $15. The Theatre is located at 599 Long Beach Boulevard, Long Beach. For more information call (562) 433-3363 or visit wwwfoundtheatre.org.