Thursday, December 22, 2005

"The Hard Nut" offers hilarious twist on standard Christmas fare

For theatergoers wanting to enjoy a holiday production but who feel a bit weary of the traditional versions, there’s one rendition that gives a lively twists on standard Christmas fare.

Cal Peformances’ presentation of the Mark Morris Dance Group’s “The Hard Nut” offers a hilarious alternative to the classic tale of “The Nutcracker.” Based on the story “Nutcracker and Mouseking” by E.T.A. Hoffman and choreographed by Mark Morris, it’s a funky, chaotic version where appealing, engaging and sometimes creepy characters parade and dance across the stage to the delight and giggles of audience members.

Most of the action takes place in the Stahlbaum’s 1960s house complete with Adrianne Lobel’s cartoonish, black and white set and a gigantic white Christmas tree. Mrs. Stahlbaum’s a tall, well-coifed woman played hilariously by John Heginbotham. Dr. Stahlbaum’s played comically by Guillermo Resto. Both remain hip despite living in the suburbs. But they’re also at a loss as to how to handle their rambunctious three children, Marie (Lauren Grant), Fritz (June Omura) and Louise (Julie Worden).

At the Stahlbaum’s annual holiday do, guests range from an inebriated character (Mark Morris) from the 1970s with his full head of curly hair and wide lapels to the strange, eye-patched Drosselmeier (Craig Biesecker).

As a subplot, Drosselmeier’s search for a hard nut sends him off on a global journey where he encounters a variety of dancers from an Arabian seductress swathed in wonderful turquoise colored fabrics to Chinese maidens dressed in citrus colors of green and orange.

One of the funniest dance sequences in the productions features male and female ballet dancers portraying snowflakes. Dressed in midriff baring white tutus and donning shell shaped hats, they sprinkle snow around themselves on stage as members of the UC Women’s Chorale, directed by Mark Sumner, sing ethereal style music in the background. The Waltz of the Flowers also shows both genders of dancers in another humorous number. It also displays costume designer Martin Pakledinaz's exquisite talents with his vibrant, wispy petal costumes.

The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra with conductor Robert Cole at its helm performs Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” Op. 71 magnificently.

Mark Morris Dance Group’s “The Hard Nut” plays Dec. 9-18 at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Way in Berkeley. Tickets range from $32-$60. Call (510) 642-9988 or visit for more information.