Sandra Tsing Lohis quite the story teller, drawing from her experiences as the daughter of immigrants -- a German mother and a Chinese father -- growing up in Southern California's San Fernando Valley. Her one-woman show, "Aliens in America," was a hit for San Jose Repertory Theatre. Now she's trying to duplicate that success with another one-woman show, "Sugar Plum Fairy," but this time her efforts fall short.
The main reason is not the story but the effort she puts into telling it. She simply tries too hard. Performing without intermission, she takes the audience back to her San Fernando Valley home when she was 12 years old and taking ballet lessons along with her older sister, Caitlin, then 15. Both of them are trying out for major roles in "The Nutcracker." Caitlin, the more talented of the two, is chosen to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy, while Loh is relegated to one of the many flowers in "Waltz of the Flowers." Eventually the story morphs through Loh's early adulthood and into motherhood, when her own two daughters go to see "The Nutcracker" with their Auntie Caitlin.
The story has numerous comic elements, especially as Loh tells it, but she and director David Schweizer don't seem to trust that it can stand on its own merits. Instead Loh becomes hyperactive, bounding around the stage, frantically waving her hands, looking at the audience to implore a reaction, which is sometimes grudgingly given.
David Zinn's cheery set extends into the theater with holiday lights, snowmen and nutcrackers. He also designed the costumes, which have Loh starting as a Christmas tree, then gradually shedding various layers until she's in basic black. Stephen Le Grand's sound design uses lots of musical excerpts, mainly from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" and Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet." Lighting is by Geoff Korf.
"Sugar Plum Fairy" is supposed to be light holiday fare, but its frenetic pace is more akin to a crowded mall in December.
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