Sendak’s Christmas tree makes its last appearance.

Sendak’s Christmas tree makes its last appearance.

PNutcracker McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. (Seattle Center), 441-2424, $35–$136. See pnb.org

PNutcracker

McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. (Seattle Center), 441-2424, $35–$136. See pnb.org for near-daily schedule. Ends Dec. 28.

While it’s not a going-out-of-business sale, there’s a certain last-chance feeling to this year’s run of Nutcracker. Pacific Northwest Ballet premiered this production, choreographed by Kent Stowell and designed by Maurice Sendak, in 1983. PNB was just 11 years old at the time, and the goal was to create a world-class production. Thirty-one years later, I think we can say they succeeded.

The Stowell/Sendak production was intended to be distinct from the candy-cane sweetness of most Nutcrackers at that time. Given Stowell’s depiction of the heroine Clara as a young girl on the brink of adolescence and Sendak’s signature touch of chaos underneath the gemutlich charm of the 19th-century drawing room, this Nut was engaging for adults as well as children. Yet it’s to be retired. This time next year we’ll see George Balanchine’s iconic choreography set to new designs by Ian Falconer (of Olivia the Pig fame).

What will I miss about this annual holiday production? The careful storytelling, with key elements of the drama laid out multiple times, so even the smallest audience members can follow the E.T.A. Hoffmann tale. The antique-store density of Sendak’s set design—I’ve seen it many times, and still find new things to marvel at in the details. The vintage quality of the theatrical tricks, especially the stage-within-a-stage for the trip to the Pasha’s kingdom, with its unrolling panorama and old-fashioned waves (complete with leaping dolphins on the piccolo flourishes!). And the charming way that the Pasha’s court “applauds” using ASL, waving their hands above their heads.

All these elements were nicely polished for opening night’s full house, which ooohed when the curtain went up on a Christmas party, jumped in their seats when the toy soldiers fired their cannon, and giggled at those dolphins. Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand were a charming adult Clara and Nutcracker prince—her gentle accents in the second-act opening solo matched the distinctive quality of the celesta. Carrie Imler made the speedy choreography for the “Waltz of the Flowers” exhilarating, while Lindsi Dec brought sustainment to the role of the Peacock. And Uko Gorter, who has been dancing the combined role of the eccentric toymaker Drosselmeier and the mysterious Pasha for many years, was totally convincing as he egged the young boys to make mischief at the family party. Sandra Kurtz

PPride and Prejudice

Center Theatre at the Armory 
(Seattle Center), 216-0833, book-it.org. 
$25–$60. Runs Wed.–Sun. Ends Dec. 28.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any staging of a Jane Austen novel is going to be a sure bet for Book-It (again), but of her canonical six, Pride and Prejudice, as the most beloved, brings challenges the others don’t—primarily competition in fans’ heads with the popular 1995 BBC miniseries, which, as much as anything, launched the Austen craze of recent decades. Richard Nguyen Sloniker, the Darcy in Book-It’s brisk and bubbling adaptation, bears the heaviest burden—not only because it’s a tricky role in itself, requiring a delicate balance of likability (so we root for him and heroine Elizabeth Bennet to fall for each other) and imperiousness (to give that inevitable attraction a plausible obstacle to overcome), but because much of the miniseries’ popularity was due to the Darcy of Colin Firth, who did his best to ruin the role for any other actor. Sloniker masters just that balance, and carries off some splendid scenes with the sharp, subtle Elizabeth of Jen Taylor (herself a frequent Austen adapter for Book-It). As their passions rise, their diction gets crisper, their consonants sparking like clashing swords.

The casting is just as ideal all the way through, the 15 actors—nine of whom take more than one role—adept at weighting and coloring every laugh line to make it land and deftly avoiding caricature even where it’s most tempting, with Austen’s most acerbically satirized characters: Kimberly King’s Mrs. Bennet, John Bianchi’s Mr. Collins, Sascha Streckel’s Mary. Especially marvelous are those actresses in smaller roles who in memorableness surpass even what Austen put on the page: Jesica Avellone and Kate Sumpter become the Charlotte Lucas and Miss Bingley to beat, casting themselves in my brain-movie each time I pick up the novel from now on.

Every P&P fan is going to have some quibble with director Marcus Goodwin’s script (previously mounted in 2000 and ’04), but one unanimous one, I bet, will be his inexplicable omission of one of Austen’s iconic lines, Mr. Bennet’s wry envoi after seeing three of his five daughters paired off: “If any gentlemen come for Mary or Kitty, send them in, for I am quite at leisure.” It’s the victim of a coda that felt precipitate; after three hours, I don’t see the harm another five minutes could have done, just to let us savor Austen’s happiest ending. Gavin Borchert

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