Let me preface things by disclosing that I never saw Buttcrackers 1 and 2. Would I be lost? Would I be working on a complicated puzzle with pieces missing? In fact, my apprehension about Brüka Theatre’s Buttcracker 3: The Resurrection stemmed less from having missed its previous incarnations than from the name itself, which is a distasteful red flag that sent my lowbrow detector into overdrive.
As it turns out, I was not left in the dark. The narrative arc of Buttcracker 3 covers the same ground as the previous two. At least I assume it does, because it covers the same ground as The Nutcracker. As for the lowbrow quotient, well … that was an uphill battle. It’s sort of a shame that some drug references and sexual innuendos probably prevent the show from being appropriate for all ages—depending on how puritanical of a parent you are—because my 7-year-old nephew would have been rolling in the aisles.
The plot of Buttcracker 3 isn’t terribly important, but it does help if the audience is familiar with Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet. It’s Christmas Eve at the home of little Clara (a broadly funny Mary Bennett). The story covers the get-together of the most dysfunctional family this side of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and from there transitions into Clara’s drug-induced psychotic dream. Toys battle rats (apparently for supremacy over Burning Man), snowflakes put on a drag show… you know the drill.
It’s difficult to render serious criticism of something so brazenly ridiculous. I could take an academic approach and note that the show feels distinctive to Reno in the way it gives a proud middle finger to sophistication. Ballet? We’ll show you uppity folks ballet! Here’s a pasty dude in tighty-whiteys spinning clumsy pirouettes! Here’s a guy strutting around in tights with a bulge the size of a Christmas ham! However, it’s probably a little unfair to dwell on that. As an audience member, when you walk into a play called The Buttcracker, you know you’re not in for the height of culture.
Brüka leaves the excellent original Nutcracker music mostly intact. Apart from that, the show’s biggest asset is the approach of the cast, which practically shouts, “Come on, kids, let’s put on a show!” Along with Bennett, the reliable Adam Whitney is in top comedic form. The elastic-faced John Wade is wonderfully weird both as the manic Fritz and the Sugarplum Fairy. Tom Plunkett’s narration, which comprises 99 percent of the play’s spoken words, carries the show through some unfocused stretches, and supplies some of the best gags.
It helps tremendously that the cast is having loads of fun, and it’s easy to get swept up in the silliness of certain sequences. The waltz of the snowflakes is particularly good, and is probably the show’s comedic apex. A convalescent tapdance and a capering Chinese takeout container also bear honorable mention. If the cast’s strength is its backyard can-do spirit, its weakness is dancing, save for a coordinated few. This is mostly overcome by an approach that’s more Three Stooges than Bob Fosse, but sometimes the off-balance promenades can wear thin.
While the show aims—and mostly succeeds—at being pure fun, many scenes feel overlong, especially for something so light on substance. Several ensemble scenes, including the opening party sequence, are chaotic and something of a headache to survey. Notably, these criticisms could easily be leveled at the source material, which is also to blame for the kooky plotting. The crassness, however, can all be pinned on the Brüka ensemble, which is credited with creating this escapade. As long as you’re willing to check your refinement at the door, you just might have as much fun as they do.