This is a total mess. Sometimes a joyously funny mess, but a total mess nonetheless. The Buttcracker, an original Brüka production, is a sloppy parody of everyone’s favorite holiday ballet, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. At times, it’s a heartfelt homage to the ballet, other times, it’s a farce of an amateur production gone horribly awry. At its best, it’s a deft, witty comedy, though it veers far afield from the source material, with weird excursions to galaxies far, far away.
The production uses Tchaikovsky’s original music (with an added bonus or two), and besides the occasional narration and a throwaway line here and there, there’s hardly any dialogue. There is, however, quite a bit of dancing. It’s always funny to watch non-dancers dance, and when the non-dancers happen to be skilled comedic actors, the results are even better. Instead of the elegance of ballet, we have a sort of hammy, slapstick pantomime.
Mary Bennett, in the central role of Clara, prances and swoons like a schoolgirl, all the while grinning coyly at the audience. Bill Ware has some funny moments, dressed in drag as the family maid and swigging from a flask hidden in his “bosom.” Adam Whitney nearly steals the show as the prissy, pouty prima donna Dew Drop Fairy.
This is an intentionally lightweight production and not to be taken at all seriously. I enjoyed some good, hearty belly laughs, and, for a production like this, whether you laugh is the only criteria that really matters. But still, there were some things that bugged me. The play was “created by the Brüka ensemble,” with different cast members directing and choreographing different scenes. This results in a wildly inconsistent tone and some very clumsy action. The inconsistency is part of the energy of the play, but it’s also frustrating. It’s difficult to follow some of the busy ensemble scenes. There are a couple of odd and unfunny moments, and a few scenes—especially early on in the first act—are rather boring.
But, like I say, I laughed a lot, and that’s all that really matters. The Nutcracker is such a familiar part of pop culture that it’s easy to take for granted. One thing I really like about The Buttcracker is that it’s not a mean-spirited parody but seems to respect its source material. It also made me realize just how odd the original ballet really is—after all, the first act is a battle between toys and rats, and the second act is a feast of dancing candies and fairies. The original conceits of the ballet are actually way more ridiculous than any of Brüka’s goofball antics.
In a way, I enjoyed The Buttcracker more than I’ve ever enjoyed any performance of The Nutcracker. Dance as an artform often impresses more in the inspired amateur than in the slick professional. Though this performance is graceless and messy, it has genuine enthusiasm and verve. It reminded me of the living-room productions my little sister would put on after she saw the ballet for the first time. That might not sound like a compliment, but it is. The Buttcracker is energetic, sloppy, funny and very weird.