Snow blanketed Reno as if on cue for the beginning of the holiday season. Locals are booking tickets for traditional Christmas performances. There are a few Nutcracker ballets to choose from and even a “Peanutcracker” for young audiences. But if you’re in search of edgy, fringe theatre fare, then there is only one: “Buttcracker 6: Underland.” It’s a Brüka Theatre original and if you haven’t already guessed, it’s a wacky parody of the Nutcracker ballet. But “Buttcracker” is much more than that. As “Underland” suggests, the Nutcracker gang go down Alice’s dystopian rabbit hole and the audience gets two mind-bending story lines for the price of one.
Buttcracker opened Friday November 27 to a sold-out crowd and the performance delighted the audience with an evening of madcap, gender-bending camp that is just plain fun. The vaudevillian, ballet cum rock opera started like a normal performance with Mary Bennet (the director who also plays Clara) seated in a chair, ready to recite a Christmas tale. Gary Cremeans provides the narration and glib asides as a disembodied voice over the sound system. That’s about as normal as the performance gets. Children arrive with their parents from the front of the stage and Bennett invites each new arrival to be in the play. They don costumes in plain view and the fun begins.
The ballet of the absurd loosely follows a Nutcracker, Alice in Wonderland mélange, but with notable differences. Clara’s relations are Adams Family and Brady Bunch lookalikes, and grandma arrives martini glass in hand. Of course there is Uncle Creepy (Kenneth Lester) who licks hands and gropes the French maid (Tyler Allen). Well, you get the point. “Buttcracker” is quite like the Marx Brothers meet Tchaikovsky. Classical ballet morphs into Michael Jackson pop, led by a rabbit in top hat and red leather jacket. Dance of The Sugar Plumb Fairies—women in pink athletic shorts—segues to rock music led by a stage-commanding ‘Drag Hatter’ (AJ Gonzales). An adolescent mock turtle performs a superb hip hop, but the clock is tick, tick, ticking. Clara takes a toke from a giant hookah, swallows mom’s pharmaceuticals and the zany action descends down a rabbit hole, a psychedelic dream within a dream.
The minimalist set was simply an expanding Christmas tree, painted theater drape and moveable screens. But the real ornamentation was the performers in colorful, outrageous costumes, who danced, pranced and strutted their stuff. The choreography by La Ronda Etheridge was divine, music choices delightful and the entirety made for droll entertainment on the edge. I was gratified to see so many children in the performance, a new crop of performers to continue Brüka’s 23 seasons of success.
Go see “Buttcracker.” You won’t find a more playful performance in Reno, but buy your tickets soon. The first two performances were sold out and for good reason. “Buttcracker” is Reno’s alternative holiday show and it’s sure to become a must see. It will certainly be one of my holiday traditions. I loved it and if you’re looking for a peep hole into a parallel universe of fringe musical theatre, you will too.
What: “Buttcracker 6: Underland”
Where: Brüka Theatre of the Sierra, 99 N. Virginia St., Reno
When: Through December 19
By Galen Watson