Edgar Allan Poe’s Nutcracker (the un-ballet) by Interact Theater

Edgar Allan Poe's Nutcracker (the unballet).

Edgar Allan Poe’s Nutcracker (the unballet).

Edgar Allan Poe’s Nutcracker (the un-ballet) is a weird and wonderful production created by Interact Center’s ensemble and performed by them under the direction of Taous Claire Khazem and Scotty Reynolds at their new home (1860  Minnehaha Avenue West) in St Paul.

The play, inspired by Poe’s short story “Hop Frog” and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s music from the Nutcracker Ballet, opens with an eerie organ chord. Poe enters, downs a swig of brandy and intones the first lines of his story as he begins to write, “I never knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the mayor. He seemed to live only for joking.”

The clock goes tick-tock-tick and the stage fills with a troupe of villagers along with the fat mayor, who resembles Groucho Marx with his moustache and shifty eyes. We are told that a lean joker is rare in this town, as four corpulent aldermen in top hats and suits pester the town’s people. The music is Tchaikovsky’s but it has been retuned in jarring harmonies and jaunty rhythms (by composer Aaron Gabriel) to make it more suited to Poe’s writings.

Into this community of beleaguered inhabitants comes Hop Frog (Joe Blegen). Though he is slight, Hop Frog proves a nimble adversary to the mayor and his gang.

It is on this thread that the tale of Interact’s Un-ballet hangs. The large troupe of actors perform their roles well and the ensemble manages to interweave many of Poe’s best known stories into the framework of the Hop Frog tale, including Tell Tale Heart, The Raven and the Gold Bug.

At times the music, story and choreography reminds one of the better moments at Open Eye Figure Theatre. There is the same surreal quality to their telling of this story and a similar use of set and props. This is no small praise. But it is also true that the company has its own aesthetic and there is little here that feels imitative or facile. There are many magical moments. Two favorites are when Hop Frog digs for buried treasure by diving into a picture frame and when a bevy of portraits come to life to flute, bass, and celeste accompaniment.

On preview night the pacing was right; the music fine-tuned; the singing and choreography (by Colette Illarde) delightful. This is even more striking given that the troupe is composed of artists with and without disabilities. Interact’s mission is to challenge the perception of disability. It doesn’t take long to forget to think of anyone on stage as disabled as this very abled cast entertains and turns more than just a Christmas tree on its head.

In the end, the village rids itself of the mayor and his band of big meanies and the town celebrates to the strains of the Dance of the Snowflakes, played in an off harmony by the orchestra.

It is a pleasure for a life-long theatre goer to experience for the first time an innovative and creative theatre. This reviewer must admit that her enjoyment is tempered with a mea culpa for not experiencing this troupe sooner given its nearly twenty year history here in the Twin Cities. This may be the best holiday show in town. It is playing until December 19. Don’t wait; go see it.


How Was the Show for You?

Your email address will not be published.