It might be misleading to call "Insurgo: The Nutcracker," now at The Plaza, an adaptation of the ballet. Director/writer/designer John Beane has come up with a 40-minute fantasy that has a sweetness all its own. It's rich in childlike glee and surprise.
I was intrigued the moment I entered the theater. The tiny stage's back wall was decorated with little more than a mass of nailed plastic, skillfully lit. It told me that the story would take place in a freezing environment, be light-hearted and dreamlike. It demonstrated that a skeletal budget is no excuse for an ineffective set.
We're soon charmed by two penguins (brought to life by the strong presence and precision of Michelle Meyer and Melanie Ash) frantically cuddling to keep warm. They communicate through "chirps." It doesn't take long to figure out what the individual sounds mean.
The penguins' isolation is interrupted when they become fascinated by a mysterious Christmas box that has dropped onto the stage. (It brings to mind the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey.") Out pops Beane's version of the Nutcracker in the form of the young, tall, thin and nimble actor Brandon Oliver Jones. He's motionless for a while (the trouper doesn't even blink!) and his stillness gives us time to take in his spectacular circus-toy makeup and costume (again by Beane). Luckily, Jones is even more magnetic when he comes to life and tries to communicate with the penguins.
No more talk of plot. Suffice to say, the tale keeps deepening and is greatly enhanced by Beane's sound effects, lights and choice of music, as well as Meyer's choreography (which is appropriately clumsy at times; it's as if the characters wish they could be fairy-tale dancers but can't quite manage it).
Beane has some serious issues on his mind, but the evening never loses its whimsical touch. The happy ending ties up the loose ends of the tale without overstating. I was amazed that so much was said without a single word.
Forty minutes is too short for a stand-alone production. But maybe I felt that way because I wanted the show to go on forever.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.