During the year-end holiday season, the city’s arts calendar gets overwhelmed by predictable (and shamelessly commercial) holiday-themed fare. Be it yet another iteration of Christmas Carol or another year of the same old Nutcracker, the season can get painfully repetitive. Many of us reach a point where we become desperate for something, anything, that is fresh and new. Enter Chris Davis, stage left, in his One-Man Nutcracker.
Witty and honest
Davis has written a refreshingly witty show, which he is presenting for a short run in the intimate upstairs space at Plays and Players. Directed by Mary Tuomenen, One-Man Nutcracker not only satirizes predictable aspects of the hoary holiday chestnut but frequently veers off in unpredictable and personal directions.
These detours expand the scope of the show as Davis pokes fun at the classic Nutcracker experience as well as many of the tropes of the holiday experience in general.
While Davis’s satire is spot-on, it’s not mean-spirited. Davis makes it clear that he loves The Nutcracker—both the music and the dancing. He just acknowledges that there are aspects of it that are, well, silly or creepy—and, honestly, racist. For instance, he points out that during the various dances featuring so-called “exotic” cultures, you’re not likely to see dancers of Arabic or East Asian descent, never mind authentic costumes.
Welcome holiday tonic
The personal segments are where Davis’s love of all things Nutcracker becomes clearest. The ballet and its music had an outsized impact on the artist’s youthful Christmas experience, and he recounts these influences with wit, charm, and warmth.
There is also choreography—the subject at hand is the world’s most famous ballet, so how could there not be? But Davis is by no stretch a dancer, so the choreography (provided by Hallie Rumsey-Lasersohn) is pretty basic, and often utilized to hilarious effect.
One-Man Nutcracker is a welcome tonic to what could otherwise be a boring holiday performance season. While staying firmly within the spirit of the season, Davis and his team have devised a refreshing splash to the face, laced with both sharp wit and warm humanity.
What, When, Where
One-Man Nutcracker. By Chris Davis. Directed by Mary Tuomanen. Through December 28, 2019, in the upstairs black box at Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St., Philadelphia. Visit online for tickets.
The third floor of Plays and Players is accessible only by stairs.