Theater Rivew: 'The Sugar Plum Fairy'

Ben Miles

Sandra Tsing Loh has made a career on National Public Radio and on stage by sharing her life situations, focusing especially on the confounding dilemmas and the perplexing contradictions of her daily duties as a workaday mother and wife. The autobiographical scenarios she sublimates into creative expressions most always have truth at their root and humor as their fruit.

The same might be said for her latest stage show, “Sugar Plum Fairy,” now having its debut at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory Theatre. The conceit is inspired by Loh’s aspirations to perform in her ballet school’s production of the Nutcracker Suite during her middle school years, circa the 1970s.

Overshadowed by her snooty, overachieving older sister, Kaitlin — who was cast in a major role in the Yuletide staging — little sister Loh (in a persistently over-the-top performance by Loh, as herself) is relegated the role of a sugar plum fairy, or what amounts to ballet chorus dancers or extras or human atmospherics. Resentment abounds, mostly in the younger Loh’s mind, as she struggles to fulfill her newly found but less than welcomed dancer obligations.

Directed with an unfocused aimlessness by Bart DeLorenzo, the show has a dedicated supporting cast of two able and willing performers who offer more modulated and nuanced approaches to their roles than Loh is able to achieve; they are the energetic Shannon Holt and the ever so pleasant Tony Abatemarco and they admirably embody an array of distinct characters.

Nevertheless, the show’s chaos rarely settles into a comprehensible narrative and often seems like a less than professional production and far below the standards audiences have come to expect from the acclaimed South Coast Rep. As one audience member was overheard remarking, “This 75 minute show is an hour too long.”

“Sugar Plum Fairy” continues at South Coast Rep through December 24. SCR is located at 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. For reservations, call (714) 708-5555; for online ticketing visit


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