It took me nine years to get out to the House Theatre’s annual nonballetic staging of The Nutcracker, but after finally seeing it last year, I was eager to make a return trip. Created by Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich, Kevin O’Donnell, and Tommy Rapley, the House version imagines a family broken apart by grief and finding their way back to a different kind of normal.
The twist this year is that the family is headed by two dads—Benjamin Sprunger’s Marty and Nicholas Bailey’s David. Inevitably, the casting choice invites us to meditate on how difficult it can be for LGBTQ people to create families in the first place and in too many places. (It also allows for sly jokes about Fire Island.) The loss of their eldest, Fritz (Dwayne Everett), who dies in combat on Christmas Eve, sends their daughter, Clara (Amaris Sanchez), on a Wizard of Oz-like quest a year later to save Christmas for herself and her dads. She’s accompanied by her newly come-to-life toys, including a nutcracker in Fritz’s image, gifted by her mysterious Aunt Drosselmeyer (Amanda De La Guardia, in fine hoydenish form).
A suitably creepy rat-king puppet from Chicago Puppet Studio, delicious comic turns from Colin Morgan, Johnny Arena, and Rachel Shapiro as Clara’s trio of toy friends, and the earnest tunes combine for a sad-sweet, hopeful-heartfelt peek into how to keep the holidays alive—even (or especially) when the people who shared them with you are gone from this corporeal realm. That’s a story worth sharing for all families. v