The Crackatook explores the dark side of The Nutcracker

Barbara Field
Barbara Field
Image courtesy the Playwrights' Center
Barbara Field's latest work has come a long way from its original incarnation as a holiday children's show that wasn't A Christmas Carol.

Field enjoyed the irony ("I've lived off A Christmas Carol for many years), and set out to work on a play inspired by the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman, who crafted the original Nutcracker.

Along the way, the money for the children's version of the show dried up. Field continued on, crafting a piece that is decidedly not for the youngsters. Her work, called The Crackatook, gets a staged reading tonight at the Playwrights' Center as part of the 2013-14 Ruth Easton New Play Series.

"It's been a very strange adventure for me. If I'm hired to do work, that is an exercise in craft. This one kept waking me up at night. It's so far off the map it is a little hard to define," Field says.

Hoffman "wrote these fabulous stories. I've loved them. They are creepy and surreal. It's the full bloom of German romanticism -- and creepy  as well," she says.

The play takes its name from one of the characters in the Nutcracker story, but the work actually includes bits and pieces from several Hoffman stories, Field says.

Originally, the brief for the piece was to keep it to seven actors. To get there, Field killed off the father in the Nutcracker portion of the story. The action was also set in Dresden, which allowed her to make a connection between the firebombing of the city during World War II (brought vividly to life in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five) and a battle in nearby Leibzig in 1831, when a combined force of European troops defeated Napoleon.

"That is the household. The children are very different from the children from either the story or the ballet. They grew to be different kinds of people in my creation. They are no longer children. There was a voice telling me that they should be wearing clothes that are much too small for them. They had outgrown all of their toys," Field says.

The Playwrights' Center's Jeremy B. Cohen will direct the reading, while actors Raye Birk, Dustin Valenta, David Darrow, Pearce Bunting, Anna Reichert, Charity Jones, and Adia Morris will take on the roles.

Company and playwright will spend 20 hours preparing the piece. "It's not a cold reading. It gives me enough time with the actors so they know what they are reading. Certain problems or assets can be understood in the work," Field says.

For the audience, it's a chance to see a brand-new piece. In this case, one that comes from a particularly dark place in the human psyche.

"I love the hidden sexuality and creepiness of it. They are disturbing pieces. They are tales out of nightmares," Field says.


The Crackatook
7 p.m. tonight, Jan. 6
Playwrights' Center
2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
For reservations and more information, call 612.332.7481 ext. 110 or visit online.
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The Playwrights' Center

2301 Franklin Ave. E.
Minneapolis, MN 55406


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