For more belly laughs than you’ve had in a long time, head over to the Found Theatre for its hilarious Somberton Senior Residence Presents ‘The Nutcracker,’ directed by Lauren Nave. This is a far cry from The Nutcracker of statuesque dancers and ethereal sets that you can see less than a mile away at the Terrace Theatre, where the Long Beach Ballet is performing Tchaikovsky’s masterwork. The Found’s production is everything the ballet company’s is not– earthy, irreverent, low-budget and campy. But that’s OK. It’s well worth an evening out.
Set in a nursing home/assisted-living facility, Somberton involves the valiant efforts of activity director Kevin Gillespie (Derek Long) to rouse residents from their bingo cards and trips down Memory Lane. His goal: to have them pull off a performance of The Nutcracker. The audience never appears, so those in attendance serve as ballet lovers in both the real world and the inner world of the play; in other words, the actors are performing for us, but so are the characters.
And characters they certainly are! Rule-oriented Nurse Jessica (Joyce Hackett) begins by addressing the audience: “Please do not feed the residents.” A bit later she quips, “I can add you to the waiting list…We’re all waiting for something.” She announces physician lectures on such titillating subjects as “Throw Rugs: The Silent Menace” and shave and nose hair trims for the gentlemen in the beauty shop. She keeps her one-liners coming, at one point chastising her charges with “Sometimes I think you people take your colon health for granted.”
X (Terra Taylor Knudson), so named because her kids dropped her off at a fire station sans ID, is generally out to lunch, except when she’s ably swinging her walker as a sugar plum fairy. Frances (Beverly Shields) is forever holding her water bottle but often interrupts her catatonic state to burst into song with the flair of a nightclub entertainer. Carl (Ken Bosworth) is the center of attention when he announces that he’d “kill for Little Debbies,” and his fellow residents go absolutely gaga. Carl is married to Lillian (Melinda Weinstein), who looks far too young to have joined him in the rest home, yet Carl wishes she’d leave, so he could be a cranky old coot by his lonesome. Rose (Laura Bosworth), looking like she’s ready to join in a baseball game if any happen her way, makes amends to one of the residents by offering her meds as an apology gift.
With such a cast of attention-grabbers, it’s difficult to imagine two actors standing out, but playwrights Virginia DeMoss as Wanda and John Sturgeon as Stanley certainly do. Wanda receives a nutcracker from her absent children as a Christmas gift, and Stanley wistfully remarks, “Every time you say ‘nutcracker,’ I think of my friend Raul with his enormous hands.” Stanley is the guy who is obviously packing a punch– and not just with the Bailey’s that he slips into the Ensure– but with his tight, pink shorts and silk dressing gown. As director Kevin suggests, Stanley needs “a lot more Clint Eastwood and a lot less Nathan Lane.” Good luck with that, Mr. Director, as Stanley appears on stage with a page boy’s flouncy shirt and matching tights.
DeMoss is marvelous as Wanda, the feisty, philosophical and sometimes melancholy ring leader. She is decidedly Clara of ballet fame, the young girl-turning-woman who, like Wanda, transforms. After her dreamy near-death experience, she emerges with a load of self-absorption gone and a dollop of newfound compassion, offering Kevin, the director with the rugged good looks of one of her ex-husbands, her handicap placard as a thank-you gift.
Somberton Senior Residence Presents ‘The Nutcracker’ continues at the Found Theatre through Sunday, Jan. 17. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays Dec. 19 and Jan. 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 8pm and Sundays Dec. 20 and Jan. 10 and 17 at 2pm. General admission is $20. Special fundraising performance for Arts & Services for Disabled of Long Beach on Sunday, Jan. 10, with 100 percent of proceeds going to ASD (artsandservices.org). For information and reservations, call (562) 433-3363 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . The Found Theatre is located at 599 Long Beach Blvd. Two hours’ of free parking are available in the Sixth Street parking garage located just west of the theater.