THEATER REVIEW: “Casse Noisette” @ Bridge Street Theatre [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Barbara Waldinger
Photograph by Kelly Thompson
Casse Noisette, French for Nutcracker and subtitled “A Fairy Ballet,” is Bridge Street Theatre’s current world premiere offering. Given these clues, audience members may be excused for expecting Balanchine’s ubiquitous holiday ballet, set to the familiar score of Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, based on Hoffmann’s famous fairy tale. However, Michael Whistler’s play combines multiple tales – a kitchen sink full, in fact – in one very long production.
The double plot parallels scenes from Tchaikovsky’s life (as he fulfills his commission to compose music for the Russian Imperial Theatre’s ballet of Casse Noisette) with the life of the fictitious Joe Jessup, an earth science teacher in twenty-first century Spokane, Washington. The piece dramatizes the struggle of both men to come to terms with their homosexuality, which they have strived mightily to keep secret. In addition, the playwright attempts to interpret Tchaikovsky’s music (which he claims to have heard a thousand times) as explained by Joe, who, like Whistler, is obsessed with the composer’s work. Joe analyzes different sections of the Nutcracker score for his latest boy toy, while Tchaikovsky, explaining his need to write Romantic compositions that express human feeling, argues with his brother, Modeste, about why he doesn’t want to waste his talent on a meaningless ballet that is merely “the waking dream of a confectioner.” As if that were not enough material for several plays, there are reflections about earth science and the state of public education. Furthermore, a dancing Sugar Plum Fairy, accompanied by her consort, attempts to summarize the plot of the ballet and its possible endings, to offer an epilogue about the conflicting versions of Tchaikovsky’s death, and to express her philosophy that one’s life cannot be lived “on point” without someone to hold you up: only love can restore the ugly Nutcracker back to a handsome prince.