If you’ve groused about Christmas decorations already taking over the seasonal aisle of Walgreens, grumbled about the Christmas tree already glistening from behind the draperies at the Jones’ house, or glared at a co-worker after overhearing that if they could just find that rare Etruscan urn Aunt Harriet covets all of their holiday shopping would be complete, you may have a pretty serious case of holiday-itis. Before this disease turns you into a bellowing Scrooge and you pass it along to innocent children, you should know that Evanston’s Piccolo Theatre has created the perfect cure.
Celebrating their fifteenth season as the greater-Chicago area’s commedia dell’arte specialists, this ensemble-driven troupe resides in a charmingly reapportioned train station. They regularly mount a holiday panto, steeped in the British tradition, as a wholesome excursion for little ones trapped in close quarters. With child-approved jokes, broad physical comedy, improvisation and, most essentially, audience interaction, a nap may be in order afterwards. Since much of the comedy is multilayered, there are special tidbits for the adults as well. Naps all-round!
Borrowing from the familiar ballet story of a little girl gifted with a nutcracker that turns into a prince, Piccolo’s show offers dancing, singing, clowning, good-guys winning, baddies losing and a dragon getting turned into a tiny stuffed toy. The additional plot of the captured Princess Marie is essayed by Annemarie Friedo with sweet results. In sharp contrast, Liz Dillard’s woebegone Clara is a bullied misfit who comes out fearlessly growling. Joshua D. Allard’s pantomime dame, an absolute imperative for this style, is a soft-spoken Southern gal with a heart of gold and a penchant for engaging the audience.
The young audience present when I saw “Clara and the Nutcracker” were wide-eyed, engrossed in the story and excited about being involved. They were exquisitely behaved. Sounds like more fun than corralling homebound schoolchildren, right? (Aaron Hunt)
Piccolo Theatre, 600 Main Street, Evanston, (847)424-0089, piccolotheatre.com, $27. Through December 20.