The Stage: Worthy Traditions

Classics come to life: The Nutcracker at Englert Theatre, Dec. 2-4, $16-22

The Englert Theatre
The Nutcracker

Dec. 2 | 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 3 | 2 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 4 | 2 p.m.

December in any town in the United States large enough to have a ballet school means one thing: the annual ritual of The Nutcracker. In the imagination of young dancers everywhere, it’s always the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine. When I was growing up in Iowa City, that meant the Joffrey Ballet at Hancher. When I lived in Wyoming, it meant the local dance studio at the high school auditorium with an imported ballerina playing the Sugar Plum Fairy and a recorded soundtrack. This year at the Englert it means the Nolte Academy of Dance and a live 30-piece orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s classic.

If your holidays aren’t complete without the swirling veils of coffee from Arabia and the Russians jumping so fast you can hardly tell they hit the ground and all the rest of the gifts brought from all over the world for Clara and her prince, you won’t want to miss this production—or really any production, in whatever town you find yourself in.
Tickets are available at or by calling 319-688-2653.

A fresh take: Maggie Blake and John William Watkins in A Hamlet
UI Dept. of Theatre Arts
A Hamlet

Dec. 1-3 | 8 p.m.
Dec. 4 | 2 p.m.
Dec. 6-10 |8 p.m.
At the David Thayer Theatre in The University of Iowa’s Theatre Building

If The Nutcracker is the world’s most famous ballet, Hamlet is perhaps its most famous play. While productions of The Nutcracker tend to be steeped in tradition and to deviate but rarely from the established order and choreography, productions of Hamlet tend to be all over the map. There are the lavishly staged and costumed Elizabethan dramas, the adaptations in modern dress, the version put on by prisoners in ___, and a thousand other permutations.

This December, the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts offers A Hamlet, directed by Carol MacVey, “a powerful, radically condensed version. . . like you’ve never experienced.”

Since the play in its entirety takes a full four hours, almost everyone condenses it somewhat. What constitutes “radical” condensation remains to be seen. My bet is that in addition to cutting the political parts (goodbye, Fortinbras), they will also be cutting the minor characters—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the Players, the gravediggers—but I may be proven wrong.

Calling the production A Hamlet is certainly wise, and it might be a better title for almost any rendition of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy. Being not of an age but for all time means also being not of any one interpretation but open to all. Check out this version Dec. 1-3 and 6-10 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 2 p.m., at the David Thayer Theatre in The University of Iowa’s Theatre Building.

Working Group Theatre
Telling: Iowa City

Oct. 16 | 7 p.m.
At Riverside Theatre

If you missed Telling: Iowa City this past month, you have another opportunity to see the show that’s based on interviews with dozens of area veterans and acted entirely by current and former service members. It will be back for a limited run at Riverside Theatre from Dec. 2-4 at 7:30 p.m. More information is available at and you can order tickets by calling 319-338-7672.

Dreamwell Theatre
Writer’s Skirmish

Playwright Contest Deadline: Dec. 15

Finally, while you are hunkering down for the winter, have you ever given a thought to writing a play of your own? Dreamwell Theatre is hosting a “Writer’s Skirmish,” a contest for area playwrights, and the deadline has just been extended until December 15. You must be an Iowa resident (or someone with “a strong connection to the state”) to enter. Plays should run 30-60 minutes and be connected to the theme of this season at Dreamwell, “Here I Stand.” The prize for winners is $100 and a full production of the play next summer at Dreamwell. More information and specific requirements are at

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