For holiday lubbers
Buttcracker 5: Pirate Booty
I really have no idea how to write a review about a play that’s meant to be a joke, which actually is not supposed to be good.
But that’s precisely what sells tickets to Buttcracker—sells them very quickly, in fact. Even before opening night, most performances of this fifth installment of Brüka’s original parody of The Nutcracker were already sold out.
Fortunately, I had arrived early enough on opening night that I was at the top of the waiting list, and I squeaked in. This earned me a prime seat for actor heckling.
Begun in 2009, Buttcracker is an annual creation of the Brüka Ensemble. The theme changes each year, but the essential premise remains the same: The professional ballet company scheduled to perform The Nutcracker has somehow been prevented from coming (here, pirates are ye culprits), and now the Brüka actors, who are in no way qualified, must step in.
Having never before seen this show, which has become a local holiday tradition, I found it to be a bit like going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The audience, a crazy community of über-fans, is encouraged to participate, wear costumes, and talk smack. The man next to me extended his hand and said, “Since we’re going to be laughing together for a while, let me introduce myself.”
Then came a brief introduction by director Mary Bennett, who cracked a few pirate jokes and then the show started.
A flurry of actors arrived on stage, doing the pre-party bustling that sets up the first act of The Nutcracker. Then, a hairy actor in a servant’s costume asked me to fasten his bra, which pretty much tells you what you need to know about the show.
The plot, narrated by a bored, acerbic stage manager (Gary Cremeans), begins to follow the original, but soon veers off into weird territory. Young Clara (played by Bennett) and her family host a Christmas Eve celebration, where “Uncle Creepy” (played on opening night by understudy Eddie Vigil) arrives, wearing a dead bird on his shoulder and bearing gifts for the kiddies—including a nutcracker doll for Clara. Her weird brother, Fritz (John Wade), tries to steal it, everyone dances badly, Clara falls asleep, a bunch of rats show up and fight the doll, the doll turns into a Jack Sparrow look-alike (Robert Grant), and he and Clara dance off to a magical land populated with a fantastic transvestite Sugar Plum Fairy (also John Wade), a mermaid (Paris Rich), and a bunch of fish. Then, pirates hijack the show and start twerking. You know, all the heartwarming stuff of classic Christmas tales.
It’s a show that knows what it is and does it well, and there’s no pretense of anything more than low-brow comedy. The idea of “great acting” is shelved, and any barrier between actors and audience is stripped away.
Yet it’s obvious that a tremendous amount of work went into it, in both the writing and performances—even bad dancing takes work—and maintaining that level of energy through a myriad of complicated costume changes is admirable.
A handful of moments induced eye rolls, and I preferred the Act I parodies of The Nutcracker to the Act II twerky-pirate stuff. But I left the theater with my face tired from laughing, some pirate swag, and a feeling of connection to the performers that I’ve rarely, if ever, felt before.