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Sugar Plum Fairy - Theatre Review


By Stana Milanovich

Sugar Plum Fairy
Tony Abatemarco, Sandra Tsing Loh, and Shannon Holt in Sugar Plum Fairy
Photo by Ed Krieger

Sandra Tsing Loh's Sugar Plum Fairy is a sweet alternative to the usual holiday fare, not in the least because its relationship to the holidays is mostly tangential. Sure, there's a Snowman that dances about the stage, and the amount of sheer kitschy paraphernalia tucked into the corners, including a full blown sleigh and houses that light up, hits levels seen only in the most decadently dressed Christmas yard. Yes, Loh first appears decked out in full Christmas tree regalia with her two elven stage partners, Tony Abatemarco and Shannon Holt, wielding a tinseled Hannukah shirt and boop-worthy reindeer-on-a-stick respectively. But 'tis a distinctly Hollywood season, and these accoutrements melt away as easily as snow against a backdrop of palm trees. Sugar Plum Fairy is a Christmas play like Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Yeah, it happens during the season, yes, in the end it's heartwarming, but that's not really the point now, is it?

Sugar Plum Fairy
Sandra Tsing Loh, Tony Abatemarco, and Shannon Holt
Photo by Ed Krieger

What is the point? Well, in order to get there, you have to be willing to follow Loh on a journey that begins with her infatuation with a record she had of The Nutcracker. With a stuffy English woman offering exposition, the musical story swept the youthful Loh to icy heights on the hottest summer days. Its lure was even more magical during a particular California Christmas season of her middle school years, when she discovered that her ballet school was going to put on a production of The Nutcracker. Enlisting the help of her two middle school friends, seasoned(?) performers both, Loh is sure she'll get the part if she can just get to the audition. Her mother thinks only of possibilities for Loh's perfectionist older sister, Kaitlin, a creature Loh views as such an unfeeling robot that she's primarily portrayed by an actual doll. While Loh practices eating cookies to the tune of the "Sugar Plum Fairy", her sister practices endless turns in front of the mirror, which is a good thing considering that they'll be judged by the deliciously portrayed Real (gasp) Professional (gasp) Russian (gasp) Ballerina and her equally fascinating assistant. Of course, when the time comes, only Kaitlin has the skill to do any of the moves at all and Loh is regulated well down the Nutcracker "hierarchy" to the "Waltz of the Flowers". Kaitlin gets the part, but in a shocking twist shows her humanity and rather dramatically abandons her role, leaving Loh to discover alone the very real joys to be had as a background performer, as well as the fact that actually getting her mother's attention comes with a side serving of anorexia. Bless us, everyone.

Wait, what?

Sugar Plum Fairy
Frosty, Shannon Holt, Tony Abatemarco, and Sandra Tsing Loh
Photo by Ed Krieger

Look. Just trust me, you'll enjoy the journey. Even if you haven't read one of her hilarious novels, or listened to her on NPR, or seen her in any of her other plays soon to become a no-doubt best selling movie, Loh will take you along on the magical sleigh, or in this case shabby car ride by sheer force of will if nothing else. Loh's energy is incredible and her characterizations are at once drop-on-the-floor hilarious and poignant. Come with a willingness to play and participate and you won't leave disappointed. Candy will be thrown to the audience, HUGE bags of chips will be devoured, and if you wave your program just right, you'll get to be right there with the rest of the little girls in "The Waltz of the Flowers". It is, in fact, the specificity of her 70s orange shag carpet and the peculiarities of riding in the back seat that make the show feel very real and universal. It's everyone's failure and everyone's joy and everyone's longing for the spotlight, and Loh will work the audience to remember the specifics of their own childhood and loss while enacting hers. Her depiction of "Quasimodo" is gloriously horrific, even if it's shatteringly showing her self-image based on her supposedly "monstrous" weight.

Sugar Plum Fairy
Sandra Tsing Loh
Photo by Ed Krieger

By the way, it's kind of surprising that someone with Loh's exceptionally talented background should choose to do a show which is all about championing average human failures, but I guess we should just count ourselves lucky enough to have wandered down a narrow alleyway next to Skylight Books and right into the theater. If you come early, you can partake of refreshment from the elf onstage, and be joshed by the snowman. If you are one of the younger set you'll likely get some extra attention, or maybe even get to sit in the sleigh. Sure there's lots that will fly over a kid's head, but the central human core is there and the actors are clearly delighted to play with young and old alike. In the end, if you pay close attention, you might find that this coming-of-age story is really about being okay with wherever you end up on your journey, that your annoying family member is likely human too, and that getting something we thought we wanted can be kind of bitter while not getting what you want can be really fun. For a holiday message, that's pretty darn good.

Sandra Tsing Loh's Sugar Plum Fairy runs through Dec 23 at the Skylight Theatre, 1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027.  It plays on Friday and Saturday 8:30pm and Saturday and Sunday 3:00pm with a run time: 75 minutes, no intermission.

Tickets are available here.




Posted By Stana Milanovich on December 10, 2018 06:23 pm | Permalink