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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Sugar Plum Fairy

When I was a kid, I wished someone would make a movie about a nice kid who wants something really, really badly and tries really, really hard to get it ... and fails miserably. I was sick and tired of Hollywood's take on things where it seemed like the nerdy kid always scored the winning run, the quiet kid turned out to have the voice of an angel, and the geeky outcast always saved the day. I no longer wanted to listen to the message that if I just believed in myself, and everyone else believed in me, there was no limit to what I could accomplish. Because, honey, that just ain't true.

Sandra Tsing Loh wrote the story I wanted, and it's currently on stage at the Geffen Playhouse. Sugar Plum Fairy takes aim not only at the sugar-coated Hollywood view of the world, but also the bells-and-tinsel-covered Christmas view. Sick of Christmas stories that are way too happy, Loh sets out to tell the story of a 12-year-old girl (Loh tells the story in first person, but it isn't clear how much of it is real) who desperately wanted to dance the lead in a local production of The Nutcracker.

According to traditional Christmas Story rules of storytelling, Loh's protagonist should have pranced her way directly onto the stage at Lincoln Center. She loved The Nutcracker. She played the record daily; it was her most prized possession. She would dance around the house and imagine herself as Clara. At first, her mother didn't even want her to go the Nutcracker audition, but she gathered her wits about her and made her mother change her mind. Getting past all hurdles, our heroine should have been instantly discovered by the expatriate Russian dancers who had the power to transform her from overlooked second daughter into Queen of the Ballet Stage.

Except ... well, except this is the real world, and just because you want something bad enough doesn't mean you'll get it. All of a sudden this story of a young girl's ballet dream becomes the story of a girl discovering her own limitations.

As a writer, Loh has an extremely quirky style, filling her narrative with the thoughts of a twelve-year-old as seen through the prism of a well-read adult. In expressing her protagonist's feelings at the time, she'll frequently throw in a metaphor that the twelve-year-old never would have imagined, but it will be completely accurate and very funny. It's a 1970s pre-teen Southern Californian girl who is occasionally possessed by Dennis Miller.

As a performer, Loh is unstoppable. She is constantly in motion - she frequently uses her arms to emphasize her speech, but the arm movements aren't pointing out anything in particular - she's just waving around with increased intensity to reflect the frenetic pace of whatever it is she's trying to say. Loh has unbelievable energy and isn't afraid to throw her body around the stage when in the grip of a very important pre-teen thought. And all pre-teen thoughts are very important.

In concept, Loh's story isn't the most uplifting Christmas tale you'll ever hear. (In fact, in a brief sequence taking place some ten years later, the story is downright depressing.) But mostly, it comes off as entertaining and fun, due to Loh's talents as writer and performer. So, if you're in a mood for a Christmas treat that isn't too sugary sweet, check out Sugar Plum Fairy.

Sugar Plum Fairy continues at the Geffen Playhouse through December 21, 2003.

Geffen Playhouse -- Gilbert Cates, Producing Director; Randall Arney, Artistic Director; Stephen Eich, Managing Director -- in association with Frier McCollister and Modern ARtists Co. present Sugar Plum Fairy. Written and performed by Sandra Tsing Loh. Scenery and Costumes by David Zinn; Lighting by Geoff Korf; Sound by Stephen Le Grand; Production Stage Manager Conwell S. Worthington III. Directed by David Schweizer.

Photo by Ken Howard

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