Theater archives

Now Dickens, Now Foreman, Now a Cannibal Christmas Tree


Director-designer Ken Nintzel makes mincemeat (or, perhaps, mincemeat pies) of a half-dozen holiday classics in ‘Twas the Night Before the Twelve Days of a Nutcracker Christmas Carol. Amid shrieks, laughs, groans, stamping, and the “Waltz of the Snowflakes,” an unseen Richard Foreman solemnly intones, “Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!” Meanwhile, two rotating platforms drunkenly revolve, exposing a score of performers dashing and prancing through Tchaikovsky’s German town, Dickens’s London, and some strange realms betwixt and between.

Nintzel offers oddball homage to all manner of holiday narratives. Under-rehearsed and slapdash (the set entangles itself in the Christmas tree, gowns slip off their wearers, toupees fall askew), ‘Twas nevertheless pays loving tribute to these tales and manages a complete version of each in less than an hour. Throughout, giddiness and blithe ungainliness color the production, particularly the dancing. Indeed, when a twirler executes a perfect arabesque, it comes as a strange if not unwelcome surprise. But rather than sophistication or expertise, it’s the sugarplum sweetness of the project and the devotion of the performers—and perhaps a particular costume involving several geese—that silence any cries of “Bah, humbug!”

In earlier shows such as Pageant and Lapse, Nintzel also paid tribute to tradition and festival. If infinitely more spirited than the latter, ‘Twas is somewhat less fully realized than the former. Should Nintzel revive the show next winter (and he should!), he might improve upon that troublesome set and create rather more interplay between the various stories. The piece’s most extraordinary moments occur when characters from one world tumble into the other—well, that and the part where the Christmas tree eats Clara.