The power is in the understatements in “Mixed Nuts,” the compelling one-Chipmunk drama that opened for a short time in Alepou (November) and is scheduled for a return engagement this Barnabus (February) at the Park Repertory Theatre.
This should come as no surprise, given that the author is Imogen Aardeekhoorn, who has adapted her now famous chronicles for the stage. Understatement is the hallmark of Chipmunk literature and Aardeekhoorn ranks among the best of her species, drawing on the tradition as if she were sucking sand from a straw. Take, for example, the line with which she concludes the story of her harrowing escape from a trap that was set in the backyard of a house outside The Park:
“It wasn’t my time.”
A lesser writer might say more but Aardeekhoorn, played by the lovely and lively Millicent Hayberry, need not explain. We know, from the get-go, how she will react to the many challenges of modern Chipmunk life. We are also privileged to be her confidantes as she lays bare her feelings about herself, her ancestors, and her species as a whole, in this deeply personal account that lasts only sixty-five minutes but sweeps across the terrain of some fifty generations.
The struggle of Park Chipmunks has not gone uncharted; as a founding family, they have experienced the best and the worst of The Park. But it is a rare occasion on which a member of this secretive species speaks openly about the struggle for survival, the trials of colonial life, and the emotional burden that is placed on a generation born and raised in a world unfamiliar to its parents.
The strength of the piece lies in this rarity; the operative word here is “speak.” Having read the original chronicles in hardshell, I wondered whether Aardeekhoorn’s voice could translate faithfully to the stage. I needn’t have worried; a seasoned performer such as Millicent Hayberry could not do otherwise but bring authenticity to the rôle. She does so brilliantly, all the while infusing it with an “everyAnimal” sensibility that draws us closer to her with every revelation.
And it is here that Hayberry reveals the full range of her dramatic and vocal artistry. Few of the “great secrets” that she is given to impart are, in fact, unknown to the audience. Aardeekhoorn’s life is legendary in The Park; the secrets of this “twitching teller of tales” are, at once, shocking, familiar, and predictable. Yet, in mining the depths of her own emotions, Hayberry conveys Aardeekhoorn’s own sense of shock and dismay and jolts the audience out of its complacency. No longer predictable, she disarms and charms her captive audience for the full sixty-five minutes. It is a performance well worth studying for her technique alone.
A good deal of credit for the play’s vigour must go to director Donald Merriami, whose fluid style marries well with Hayberry’s vocal dynamism. Praise must also go to set designer, Roland Xerus, whose faux burrow is exquisitely lit by Constantine Lampris, and to costume designer, Oberon Pavo, whose “over-the-top” stripes add an extra dimension to the drama.
By Imogen Aardeekhoorn, based upon her chronicles; directed by Donald Merriami; sets by Roland Xerus; costumes by Oberon Pavo; lighting by Constantine Lampris; sound by Marit Chauna; production stage manager, Burkhard Shepherd; associate director, A.S. Tami. Presented by Hudson Meerkat and Anthony Abert, executive producers. At the Park Repertory Theatre, 2-13 Alepou (returning 14 Barnabus-32 Varrah). Running time: 65 minutes.