Chivalry and creative storytelling are alive and well in puppet land with The Nutcracker! The production at the Puppet Co. is a fascinating mix of full-size actors in head masks joined by hand, rod, and marionette puppets.
Clara and little brother Fritz playfully await the festivities of the holidays, and Mom enters from the aisle with a tray of goodies to keep them nourished. The elegant godfather enters decked out in Elizabethan attire including waistcoat and gorgeous felt top hat. Once he playfully starts pulling toys out of his hat and gives Clara the toy nutcracker, the game is on. All of the characters so far are actors wearing head-gear masks, the littlest in a drop-bottom onesie — the cutest!
When Clara gets drowsy, the full-sized Nutcracker soldier enters in splendid regalia, sash, lapels, the works. He has little time to strut his stuff before he’s in battle with the huge Mouse King, who has captured Clara for execution! I mean, the sword is at her neck and everything. That’s when the Nutcracker jumps in with sword swinging and calls for more troops. But so does the Mouse King, so before you know it, rod puppet mice march along one side of the stage, and the smartly uniformed soldier brigade is on the other side, all while the big guys go at it in the middle. When the Nutcracker stabs the Mouse King in a fatal blow to save Clara and all the messiness clears away, he retrieves her shoe that had been lost in the scuffle and kneels in Prince Charming formation to place it on her foot, as the rousing Tchaikovsky score transitions to gentle and tender.
The rest of the show consists of snippets from fairy tales, re-creations from traditional stories, and totally new segments that work wonders. The magic of puppet wonderland is on full display whether it’s the huge shimmery glassy eyed dragon with handlers on both the front and tail end, or the magic carpet that lifts both Clara and the Nutcracker into the air and floats across the stage. No matter how many times I’ve seen the production over the years, I still can’t figure how they make it happen. I’m just l thrilled that they do.
Elizabeth Dapo’s crisp direction keeps all of the characters moving whether they’re the plucky mice who pop up and hang out when and where they choose; Russian dancers extending their legs while scooting along stools in perfect formation; or handlers in large floral mounds, depicting Little Miss Muffet’s tuffets perhaps, orchestrating a wondrous ballet of perfectly aligned ballerinas. Dapo handles it all with a flair for fun.
Originated by the founding team of Allan Stevens, Christopher Piper, and MayField Piper with the Tchaikovsky musical score performed by the Arlington Symphony Orchestra, The Nutcracker continues to be a treasured holiday celebration that has been enjoyed for generations. This 35th Annual Nutcracker is a part of the 40th overall Puppet Co. anniversary. Judging from the joyful reactions of the audiences so far, puppetry continues to engage the imagination and Puppet Co. is thriving in the hands of a new generation of puppeteers and puppets.
Running Time: 55 minutes.
The Nutcracker plays through December 31, 2023, at the Puppet Co. in Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, MD. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 10:30 a.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. For more information and tickets ($15), click here.
Recommended for ages 4+.
Sensory Friendly: Sunday, December 3, at 11:30am
COVID Safety: Masks are strongly encouraged for all patrons age 2 and older. Masks are required the week of December 14–17.
Directed by Elizabeth Dapo.
Cast: Marshall Bailey, Cate Ginsberg, Mollie Greenberg, Justin Mohay, and Rose Talbot