I kept blanking on the title of Teatro La Quincidina’s current Christmas show at the Varscona Theatre. I called it “Nutcracker Unplugged” when a friend asked about my plans for last evening. I had “Nutcracker Unleashed” written in my calendar. But now that I’ve seen the show, I’ll remember that the actual title is “The Nutcracker Unhinged”, because that fits in a clever playful way typical of the show.
I was about to write that some other short entertainments preceded the Nutcracker story on the program, but that reminded me that there did not seem to be any printed programs. I might have been the only one bothered by this, in an audience who all seemed to recognize all the performers immediately and like them already, especially Jeff Haslam, Leona Brausen, and Kendra Connor. I got the impression that many of the audience members were subscribers or longtime supporters who immediately recognized every allusion to an old production. Since I’m relatively new in Edmonton and much newer as a follower of live theatre here, much of that was not only lost on me but a bit discouraging. Anyway, a little application to the internet this morning has sorted out one of my sources of confusion, which was that I had Stewart Lemoine mixed up with David Belke, so that whether I had enjoyed David Belke’s work The Minor Keys at the Fringe wouldn’t have anything to do with whether I was going to enjoy Stewart Lemoine’s works last night. (Well, except that both of the performances featured Kendra Connor, who I liked in both.)
Before intermission, there was a reading of A Visit from Saint Nicholas, some amusing reminiscences of toy commercials of my childhood, some singing, and a short play by Lemoine called Christmas in Patagonia.
At the intermission, some of my concerns about being an outsider in a group of friends were alleviated when the theatre provided tasty seasonal beverages in the lobby, and I found myself in conversations with some interesting people I hadn’t known before, talking about why young people do and don’t go to live performances and whether it’s a problem.
The second half of the evening was the new work “Nutcracker Unhinged”. It was full of shared-culture jokes but you only needed to know a bit of the Nutcracker ballet story and a few things about Old Strathcona to be guessing and giggling about where the story was going – Block 1912 café, Bulk Barn, K and K Foodliner, and the Justik Clinic (now called Strathcona Health Centre) were all involved in the plot.
A reference to the very sad building fire in a pet store about ten years ago, which I had heard about at the time despite not living in Edmonton yet, seems to have been long enough ago and tastefully enough done to be a suitable tribute. All over the theatre you could hear people sighing as they worked out that allusion and then murmuring as they explained to their neighbours or discussed what they remembered. It was the setup for a portrayal of the ghost of a snake, which was a marvel of costuming and body language with the woman’s arms being neither obviously bound-up nor visibly separate from her body, drapey mottled clothing and sinuous movement that totally avoided the predatory sexuality usually inherent in anthropormorphic serpents. If I knew the names of the performer and the costume designer I would tell you, because it was possibly the best thing about the show.
On the whole, the play was silly and fun. The evening ended with the performers all singing “White Christmas” and the audience joining in, evoking memories of singing in community in Advent seasons all my life, when people set aside their to-do lists for long enough to relax together before heading back out into a cold night.
Last performances this afternoon and tonight at the Varscona Theatre, tickets available at the door.