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THE QUEER NUTCRACKER

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The title is a bit of a misnomer, as the relationship of Adam Bock's piece to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker can best be described as a passing acquaintance, while the adjective "queer" would imply something fun and wicked, or at least odd, which it isn't. This being the holiday season, however, I would be remiss in not pointing out the set (Derek Charles Livingston and Todd Rimes), which is inspired by the Scientology display on Hollywood Boulevard and is a lovely thing to behold. It's more fun than practically anything that happens on it, though.

"The Dance of the Mouse King" has said rodent (Tess Borden in whiskers and taps) chasing Clara (Conrad A. Corral) endlessly about the room, Clara doing a Lillian Gish silent scream all the while. Rescue arrives in the person of the Nutcracker (Andrea Knight) and a rather icky erection joke concludes the source-based portion of the evening. Other sketches employ some of the music, and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Eldon Cline) delivers a comic monologue, but there's no sense of thematic fidelity, which would be fine, of course, if the thing were funny, but Livingston seems to have no flair for comic direction. The material is too much a hodgepodge, and the pacing is positively glacial. More than once on the night reviewed, pieces limped to a conclusion, the actors stopped talking, and the lights remained up, dimming very late and very slowly. "The Final Procession" doesn't even know what it is and appears to be actors milling about in an extended and poorly staged curtain call. When it was over I thought we had passed an intermissionless 90 minutes, but it was, in fact, only 60.

Some plucky souls invest their moments with energy, notably Caroline Kera as a Jewish lesbian teaching "Yiddish for Christmas" (although I think by now even people in Des Moines know "oy!" and "schwitz") and Cline in the aforementioned Sugar Plum Fairy moment. Borden bravely perseveres in the face of utter disinterest doing "Mistletoe Moment," during which she reads out loud Christmas wishes from the audience. Said audience was having no part of it.

Some portions of the show can't be explained. Todd Rimes in a sort of wood-sprite fetish outfit singing a cappella "The Nutboy's Song" doesn't work either as a joke (he's giving away his nuts, see) or as a song (it doesn't have a melody, see). "When Two Boys Kiss" then kills any momentum the show had going, as Corral recites achingly bad yearbook-ready poetry while Rimes and Richard Alan McBride enact the piece that illuminates the heartbreaking fragility of young firm boys who fall in love while shopping. Please.

Although this has been presented before (Provincetown, '92), it's unimaginable that anyone would want to present it again. Livingston, in his capacity as the new managing artistic director of the Celebration Theatre, is hoping to make this a Christmas tradition. I'm afraid, unless there's some serious reworking of the piece, it may well become a seasonal adjunct, one with a cachet similar to that of fruitcake.

"The Queer Nutcracker," presented by and at the Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thurs.-Sun. Dec. 14-31. $20. (310) 289-2999.

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