Feb. 26, 2012
by Les Spindle
In this world premiere, two audacious theater companies join forces to create a playfully imaginative spin on "Ward 6," one of the lesser-known short stories by renowned Russian writer Anton Chekhov, penned in 1892. The age-old question of who is sane-those diagnosed as such or those passing judgment on them-has often been explored, yet there's nothing about this inspired experimental endeavor that could be considered derivative or conventional.
True to the unique brand of dramaturgy for which Theatre Movement Bazaar is known, stylized movement, choreography, and song interludes drive the highly visceral production, creating a distancing effect that feels like a ramped-up variation of the concepts pioneered by Bertolt Brecht. The acting ensemble's well-honed physicality and superb characterizations and the inventive visual and aural elements are impressive, though coherent storytelling occasionally feels secondary to hyperkinetic action.
Thankfully, there's plenty of sly wit and food for thought in this wacky but incisive view of a cuckoo's nest, and Chekhov's trenchant social commentary still rings true. Credit is due to Richard Alger and Tina Kronis, who co-conceived the piece. Alger adapted Chekhov's text, while Kronis directs and choreographs. The marvelous visual designs-Jeff Webster's fluid sets, Christopher Kuhl's lighting, Ellen McCartney's costumes-impart a classical feel, though many textual references (to reality TV, SUVs, lottery tickets, and more) suggest a modern-day setting.
In a dilapidated and highly dysfunctional institution, longtime superintendent Dr. Ragin, who hates the sight of blood and considers perceptions of pain to be "an opinion," has become disillusioned and shows little interest in curing the patients. A severely paranoid yet highly intelligent inmate, Gromov (the terrific Skeens), sparks Ragin's interest, and the doctor begins to visit him regularly. Local officials decide that Ragin is incompetent and conspire to incarcerate him. This adaptation deftly conveys Chekov's thoughtful themes of individuality versus abstract philosophies and the gross failure of governmental institutions to serve the public.
Except for Mark Doerr, who plays Ragin, the actors (Jake Eberle, Nich Kauffman, Matt Shea, Jacob Sidney, and Mark Skeens) take multiple roles, and the versatile company excels in shifting among them. Their grace and precision in performing bits of unison business are remarkable, and they master the vanishing art of vaudevillian humor with panache. While this one-of-a-kind production isn't likely to please audiences resistant to unorthodox fare, it affords adventurous viewers with a vibrant new take on the work of a literary master.
Pasadena Art Beat
Feb. 27, 2012
by Jana J. Monji
You don’t expect to laugh at Anton Chekov’s short story “Ward 6″–particularly if you’ve seen the recent movie “Ward No. 6,” but you also don’t expect a bit of Grouch Marx, “American Idol” and the CIA, NBA, NFL and KBG. Richard Alger’s adaptation is far from traditional, but you expect this, right? It’s Boston Court in Pasadena.
Don’t worry. Alger hasn’t Disneyfied Chekov and given us a happy ending. There’s plenty of tragedy and the play still erases the fine line between the sane and insane. Yet with all the roles played by men, the asymmetrical and some times only half there costumes by Ellen McCartney and the expressive ensemble choreography and direction by Tina Kronis, “The Treatment” brings kooky to crazy.
The basic story is Dr. Ragin (Mark Doerr) works at a much neglected district hospital. Slowly, he begins to drink more and go to work less. His only friend in the village is the local postman (Jake Eberle) who he finds a bit boorish and will eventually lead to his ruin. In the mental ward, Ragin becomes intrigued by a particular inmate (Mark Skeens). And in time, Ragin is seduced by the feverish rantings of the inmate and finds the reality of his outside life dimming, dull and worthless.
Presented in collaboration with Theatre Movement Bazaar, this Boston Court world premiere is part vaudeville, part crew jam and part prose jam session. This is where live theater is fun and fascinating. Movies couldn’t do this stuff. So get up, get out and contemplate your sanity at this wonderfully creative and entertaining production.
Edinburgh Fringe 2011
5 stars (out of 5)
OUTSTANDING THEATRE AWARD, 2011
The Bedlam plays host to Theatre Movement Bazaar's outstanding adaptation of Checkhov's Uncle Vanya. Wonderfully realised, this is a remarkable hour of physical theatre.
In a very physical, affecting and regularly humorous adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, Theatre Movement Bazaar set out before us a breathtaking theatrical journey, drawing on the original text and adding in plenty of their own words and bold interpretation. It's a remix, a homage and, most of all, thoroughly engaging work. Four men remain from the original play's roll call, struggling with their desires, their hopes and their fears, trying to draw together the often bewildering threads of their biographies. The stories of each are separate and yet they are bound together, with a sometimes frustrating sense of inseparability. Wretchedly content in places, deeply dissatisfied in others, these four are eloquent after-dinner speakers at the banquet of their own pain.
Physical theatre is at the core of this production, delivered with masterclass skill. Yet there is also much knockabout dialogue, occasional powerful monologue, and plenty of well chosen music. The physicality is sometimes crisper and tighter than the dialogue but that physicality is always a visual feast. It's all so well studied, the humour serves the piece, though possibly the narrative could be made a little more accessible.
Here is an outstanding ensemble performance. The precision is often part of the spectacle, the humour is diverse, combining visual comedy with some witty one liners and dynamics between the four men. There's particularly novel employment of stage crew, integrating them into the piece, physically, occasionally verbally, and even musically. The surreality of that selective, lateral breaking of that fourth wall is pulled off with skilled comedy, succeeding when it could so easily have appeared forced and even clumsy.
All four performers bring both unique character mood and well observed personal qualities to the piece but their coherence as an ensemble cast matches the well drawn out individual character essences. These are fine physical, vocal and musical artists and, as already mentioned, only occasionally does the dialogue run a little behind the quality of the physical set pieces.
Another outstanding aspect of this production is the modulation of pace and the use of silence and stillness. These actors know how to create the silence of expectation and come-down, even a split second after some clearly exerting physical work. It allows pace to switch in the blink of an eye and for mood to swing as suddenly. Rare theatre indeed.
A notable, uncredited character in this homage to Chekhov, is the music. The glockenspiel is a mood creating, comedy-enhancing player in its own right and here we have an exemplar of how to weave music with precision and effect into physical and vocal theatre work. Add to this some pretty nifty, often uplifting, ensemble dance, and we are in the realms of very special theatre.
Don't expect an easily accessible story; you'll have to sit forwards and meet this production with the full attention it deserves. The 'uncles' don't address us directly that much - they spend most of the time interacting with each other; the interaction is so full of soulful commitment and intensity, and it is that which is an open invitation of us, as audience: to sit forwards and contribute our full awareness - fail to do that and this piece, though visually compelling, might elude you.
The piece flows and changes, visually, vocally and musically like a switchback railway. There really are several pieces of theatre going on at the same time and you could return and just focus on each one at each new viewing: the theatre of eye contact, the theatre of dialogue, the theatre of dance and physical gesture, the theatre of musical mood and humour, and the theatre of ensemble movement. I went to see it twice. I'll go and see it again, and this is a show where I'll notice something new and precious each time.
I think Chekhov would be pleased. It captures the mood of his writing, it pays respect to the questions he posed, but it goes further, especially in movement and design. He'd sit at the back and frown. And then he'd smile. You won't see more simple inventiveness packed into an hour anywhere on the Fringe. My favorite line "I'm like a hole dreaming of doughnuts". Truly outstanding work at the Bedlam.
Reviewed by Paul Levy 7th August 2nd
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Review: Anton's Uncles 5 stars ( out of 5 )
August 8, 2011 by Thomas Haywood
In this fresh and physical look at Chekhov's ground-breaking play, Uncle Vanya , only the men remain, wrestling with their desires. The Los Angeles-based Theatre Movement Bazaar explodes this classic play of lives unlived, merging the original text with new writing, movement, dancing and singing to emphasize the unspoken, unseen and unexpressed.
This unconventional piece of theatre is superb! Whilst it has a relatively simple set, it is technically difficult to stage as it involves a huge amount of synchronisation with dance, movement and voice. The dialogue is sharp, witty and the audience are captivated and drawn right into the play. Back stage crew are also pulled into this synchronicity as they bring on and then remove items of the set. The dancing at times is slightly surrealistic, but that just adds to the ingenuity of this piece of theatre.
Not to be missed!
Venue: Bedlam Theatre
Date Reviewed: 23 August 2011
WOS Rating: 5 STARS
Over at the Bedlam, Chekhov is being deconstructed. Los Angeles-based company Theatre Movement Bazaar have wrestled with the Russian playwright's classic tragicomedy, Uncle Vanya and created a beautifully thrilling theatrical experience.
This is Vanya as you have never seen it before, with the women's absence transforming the four chief male characters into sweating, brooding obsessives who carefully roam the stage like caged animals, riling each other up, sinking vodka shots, and lamenting their lost lives. Whilst they brilliantly capture the Chekhovian spirit, the company's own unique voice very much dominates this 65 minute spectacle.
Cleverly, not a moment is wasted: the characters set the stage at the beginning themselves (with the help of rhythmically deadpan stage manager, Kevin Chambers) and even include a sequence which acts as a reminder for us to switch off mobile phones. What follows is surely one of the most inventive and engrossing performances here in Edinburgh.
The multi-talented cast own their individual roles, with quirky physical tics and expressions that become increasingly exaggerated, but it is as an ensemble that these performers really thrive. At the heart of the piece, physical theatre pulsates with exhausting energy and an intense precision, but this production also benefits from startlingly crisp, funny, and sometimes poignant dialogue too.
It could be mildly confusing if you aren't familiar with the play but there is enough here to satisfy Chekhov novices; whether marvelling at the slickness and sinchronicity of the performers, catching a whiff of the overpowering testosterone that fills the theatre, or watching as the men twist and whirl through frenetic Russian-inspired dance routines.
At turns romantic, moving, intelligent, bizarre, sombre, daft, beautiful, and humorous, I cannot recommend this show too highly. Subtle mood lighting, and a varied, impressive soundscape put the cap on a glorious afternoon. As a gloomy pall descends over the final image of the men settling down to a hideously repetitive existence of paperwork, never has banality seemed more extraordinary.
- Adam Elms
Laura Pittenger, O'Neill National Critics Institute
April 14, 2010
Chekhov's Vanya : Remixed and Re-mastered
All too often, seeing a "classic" play at the theatre is akin to hearing a dusty old pop album discovered in an attic, by an artist whose popularity faded years ago. With polish, sometimes these records can shine again. The LACC Theatre Academy's production of Anton's Uncles: A Deconstruction of Anton Chekhov's 'Uncle Vanya ,' surpasses mere polishing of an old record - it rips, burns, and re-masters Uncle Vanya for a new generation of remix lovers.
Anton's Uncles , adapted by Richard Alger and Tina Kronis, tears straight to the core of Vanya 's existential angst about wasted life and longings for romantic "what-if's," with knifelike precision and startlingly earnest humor. Vanya, Waffles, and Dr. Astrov all dream of the ideal woman to break the monotony of their listless lives, while they care for and despise the aging Professor, owner of their estate. The adaptation crackles with contemporary allusions from donuts to Justin Timberlake, while still maintaining shreds and chunks of Chekhov's original text.
The four principle actors energize the production with fervor and honesty, punctuating their lyrical dialogues with the grit of slam poetry. The songs the men sing may be the most beautiful a capella drinking songs ever composed. The play also demands sharp, coordinated physicality, and the actors commit so fully that at least two of them visibly sweat through the show. At times, actor Mark Skeens as Vanya emulates a tragic clown, his eyes wistfully searching for answers to his wasted life.
This demented vaudevillian circus, which Kronis also directs and choreographs, is filled with surprises for the audience, keeping the room invigorated for almost the entire show. One intense moment involves three actors building a house of cards - a mundane act, yet curiously unnerving. What happens if the cards fall? Disaster could strike at any moment in this world, and yet this fact rarely overshadows the play's comedic moments. Like any good remix, Anton's Uncles dodges the expected, attempting fresh twists on old melodies.
Kronis's choreography, inspired by hip-hop and traditional Russian dance styles, incorporates physical comedy along with sensual, suggestive moves that would make 19 th -century Russians blush. Exotic music from Russia and around the globe accompanies the dances, which fades back to bland contemporary elevator music once the dances end, recalling the angst-ridden ambience of a world where imaginary life seems more compelling than reality.
The visual elements of the show complement one another nicely - a row of vodka bottles lines the top of a patchy white wall of set, allowing the lighting designer to play with an array of colors from red to green on a mostly bare stage, with the exception of a few tables and chairs. The actors dress sleekly in well-cut suits and quirky ties, at once both formal and youthful.
Rigorous knowledge of Chekhov's canon is not a necessity to absorb the wild, fresh world of Anton's Uncles . Its spin on Uncle Vanya exposes the heart of the original play, while adding a few fabulous riffs of its own.
Radio broadcast on KCRW, June 8, 2010
"This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.
Anton Chekhov is a daunting figure in the theater. One hundred fifty years after his birth, he's rightly revered as one of the great ensemble playwrights, creating dense dramas inhabited with these wonderfully eccentric and honest souls. But like all 'great' works of literature, Chekhov's plays can get a bit dusty. There tend to be a few too many waistcoats and samovars and not nearly enough of the witty and racy charm that seems buried in his writing.
How poetic that in order to bring Chekhov's Uncle Vanya back to life the theater company Theater Movement Bazaar has had to risk destroying it.
Anton's Uncles is Theater Movement Bazaar's boiled down and remixed deconstruction of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya.
In this lean re-imagining, the cast is comprised of the four men from the original play. The women, while absent from the cast, are conjured up as images of longing and desire that fill these men's thoughts. What we're left with is part fever dream, part dance piece and part psychological exploration of the Russian master's great tale of melancholy and lost lives.
Theater Movement Bazaar is headed by the inspired and witty duo of Tina Kronis and Richard Alger. Kronis directs and choreographs, while the duo usually collaborates on the scripts and the sound design. The resulting works of art are a mash-up of sharp dialogue, beautifully quirky and original dance, and a melding of production elements that are as vibrant and present as any actor on stage. Their musical scores are like stepping into a wonderfully rich musical time warp. In Anton's Uncles, they skip from loops of 1930's big band to Ukrainian dance music to a haunting a cappella drinking song before finally landing with a spooky guitar riff on “It's a Small World.”
Having a tough time imagining how those all fit into one piece -- much less Chekhov?
The answer is the precise and whimsical choreography of Tina Kronis. Kronis creates dances that both reveal the souls of each character and unify the ensemble. A simple cup of tea or a shot of vodka inspire a ballet of everyday movements that through repetition and specificity become magical. When the melancholy and angst become too much for the characters to bear, they suddenly break into what looks like a Cossack doing hip-hop in an underground rave in Minsk. The everyday and the absurd are juxtaposed…just like Chekhov's writing.
Kronis and Alger's virtuosity, in this piece and as a company, springs from their dedication to their vision. For over a decade they've been doing their thing in LA's small theaters, first at Sacred Fools and for the last seven years at 24th Street. Across those years they've not only reanimated Chekhov but also distilled the jarring, joyous, and sometimes random experiences of moving through this city we call home.
Anton's Uncles plays through June 20 at 24th Street Theatre.
I'd love to hear about the theater artists you love at KCRW.com/theater.
This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.
Feb. 5, 2009
"A play played at right angles" might be an apt description of Richard Alger's reimagination of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Masterfully choreographed and directed by Tina Kronis, an ensemble of 11 performers, in their own words, "shreds" the story into a movement-based, bare-bones series of scenes punctuated by musical numbers. The action follows London lawyer Mr. Utterson (Jake Eberle), as he investigates strange occurrences between his old friend Dr. Jekyll (Jacob Sidney), and the misanthropic Mr. Hyde, who is first discovered by Utterson's acquaintance Mr. Enfield (Jonathan Green). Utterson is aided by reports from Jekyll's butler, Mr. Poole (Mark Skeens), and his domestic staff, as well as by Dr. Lanyon (David LM McIntyre), to whom Jekyll reveals his split personality. The performers, dressed in period attire but barefoot, remind one of the ensembles behind avant-garde works of the 1960s like The Serpent or modern incarnations like The Wooster Group. Christopher Kuhl's dynamic lighting, which compensates for the almost non-existent set, emphasizes Kronis' precise direction and 90-degree choreography. The cast shines in its exacting execution of Kronis' minimalist vision, proving Mr. Utterson's observation that "never is a reflection more thoroughly itself than when it is nothing."
MODEL BEHAVIOR, i.e., THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
(work in progress presentation)
Los Angeles Times review
By Sara Wolf, Special to The Times
July 19, 2008
There is much to celebrate about REDCAT's annual New Original Works Festival, which opened its three-week, three-program run Thursday. To begin with, there is a fair amount of assurance by now that, after five years, the festival's selections, chosen out of a pool of more than 100 applicants, will more than reward one's sense of adventure.
And, as the first program amply demonstrates, the work may be fresh out of the box but the phrase "under construction" is hardly apt.
Concluding the evening with a bang -- and a snarl and arched eyebrow -- "Model Behavior, i.e., the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" demonstrates why Theatre Movement Bazaar is heralded as a gold standard in the peculiar genre of wry literary remakes. Here, Robert Louis Stevenson's classic is treated less as a morality tale than as a treatise on modes of social conduct and proper class and gender behavior, circa the Victorian era.
Though missing the troupe's frequent use of cinematic projections and only half its intended length, the piece, led by Jacob Sidney as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, nevertheless capitalizes on Richard Alger's pithy, swift banter and the deft direction and choreography of Tina Kronis, who puts the members of the ensemble in almost continual orbit around one another.
Chorus numbers on period manners and mores, wince-worthy jokes and magic tricks are provided by a stellar cast.
MONSTER of HAPPINESS
Backstage West Review
June 27, 2007
By Dany Margolies
Program notes indicate this 70-minute piece "draws references from" such varied artistic and stylistic sources as Meyerhold's biomechanics, the films of Kuleshov and Vertov, and photographic and graphic designs of Rodchenko, each used in service of the theme of finding a utopian ideal. The evening examines society's pursuit of happiness, told through a loose version of the Bible story of Adam and Eve. But if one is unfamiliar with these elements -- and, as it happens, without tools to critique their application here -- what's left for said audience member? Somehow, amazingly, the work's abundant cerebral details can softly wash over us, leaving us feeling invigorated, enthralled, refreshed -- in simpler words just plain happy. The thoughtful creativity, the crisp presentation, the awareness of but never pandering to the audience's attention, a whimsy to balance the intelligence, and a reaching for the highest common denominator are thrilling.
Performed by Tina Kronis and Richard Alger, the "theatre" portion is written by Alger, directed and choreographed by Kronis. He plays "the man," she "the woman," but as general as those names are, their portrayals are deliciously specific. He offers up the dance of the happy man: part Hawaiian hula, part macho muscle flexing, part cheery get-up-and-move motion that looks casual but probably took hours of thought and rehearsal. She scuttles to get the man's space set up; the tiny reverberations of her footsteps are as succulent as everything else in the pair's sound design. She speaks with a wicked, somewhat South American accent. His monologues are delivered in a richly monotoned noir cadence. The performances, despite their high style, remain intimate throughout. The actors change costumes and prepare for entrances onstage -- unlit, but there for those who care to watch the process of making art.
A bevy of wonderful local actors populates the "cinema" portions of the evening (directed and edited by Alger), done in the Soviet Style of the 1920s (cinematography by Michael Glover), the reviewing of which is better left to film mavens, but which to the untrained eye looks pointedly evocative.
MONSTER of HAPPINESS
Los Angles Times
June 22, 2007
A 'Monster' and Adam and Eve
Of the inalienable rights cited in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness might be the most vulnerable to subjective interpretation. That makes it perfect for Tina Kronis and Richard Alger, who turn this quest on its 21st century head in "Monster of Happiness" at the 24th Street Theatre.
Using the Adam and Eve story to underpin its study of a Happy Man and Happy Woman whose inner thoughts emerge on the soundtrack, "Monster" combines the movement discipline of Meyerhold and the fluidity of the Soviet film constructivists.
That inspiration is detectable everywhere, including in designer Jeff Webster's deceptively utilitarian set and the slew of effects from Chris Kuhl's lighting. The desaturated film sequences, which feature a dizzying array of notable experimental artists, are remarkable.
As ever, Kronis and Alger -- known as the Theatre Movement Bazaar -- make a marvelous team, swanning about in Ellen McCartney's deconstructed costumes. Spouting affirmations or segueing into a tango, Alger's arch, aquiline presence is ideally coordinated with Kronis' mesmeric blend of nonchalance and worry. Once their existential pingpong game begins, all bets are off.
Actually, the brilliant execution slightly outstrips the content. All elements certainly achieve cohesion, but the scenario's symbolism meanders a bit, with the lack of any clear serpent analogy a missed opportunity. Yet when Kronis leaves the stage with a rake to reappear on screen attacking grass, or when Alger dons glasses "to look slightly more intelligent than I am" and karate-chops an apple, it's hard to resist "Monster," a frequently breathtaking example of their kinesthetic ingenuity.
MONSTER of HAPPINESS
June 22, 2007
For a decade now, through their Theatre Movement Bazaar company, Tina Kronis and Richard Alger have been reveling in the cultural detritus of the 20th century -- while earnestly sifting through its artifacts for meaning. This latest outing finds them searching for happiness -- or, rather, exploring the gestures and mythology that the search for happiness creates. The pair portray a Happy Man and Happy Woman living in the American Eden, a couple dressed in an array of fragmented costumes (sleeveless suit coats for Alger, stitched-remnant dresses for Kronis). Their thoughts and conversations are broadcast as voice-overs -- a disarming pastiche of self-improvement affirmations, philosophical texts and lines from such film noir classics as Crisscross and Out of the Past. Alger's character is smugly self-contained while Kronis betrays cracks in her confidence and optimism. ("I gave up on time a long time ago," she sighs.) The 75-minute show consists of repeated and often-ritualized scenarios that dance against a backdrop of film clips and within an interactive video landscape (both shot by Michael Glover). Although their immaculate orchestration of rear-screen video projections, music and choreography may remind viewers of such 1980s art pleasers as Laurie Anderson and George Coates, co-creators Kronis and Alger maintain a playful intimacy with their audience and a genuine -- rather than ironical -- affection for the past, especially Soviet Constructivism, whose celebratory cinema and graphics are lovingly imitated here.
Cassandra Frembling, Socal.com Writer
CIA = Cool, Immersive & Avant-guarde
“You’ve got a point.”
The above was written on a scrap of paper, slipped in with the admission
ticket. The first of many clever and cryptic messages in Dry Cleaning,
a multi-disciplinary theatre piece created by director and production
designer, Jeff Webster, choreographer-performer, Tina Kronis and writer-performer,
Richard Alger of 24th Street Theatre and Theatre Movement Bazaar.
Dry Cleaning is unlike anything else and to describe it risks the oversimplification
of this complex, mysterious work. It is simply something one must see.
It’s a thoughtful—and thought-provoking—fusion of performance,
projected images, dance and sound.
The performers interact with each other as well as video images in a style
reminiscent of Samuel Beckett and the Theatre of the Absurd. Eight sliding
panels define the performance space, serving both as portals to conceal
and reveal the stage action and as video projection screens, allowing
performers and digital imagery to occupy and interact within the same
The story, told in a non-linear fashion, according to Kronis and Alger,
“is the re-interpretation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth seen
through the lens of international espionage and disguise.”
Dry Cleaning, in this context, is an espionage term referring to an agent’s
obligatory daily period of inactivity while knowingly under surveillance.
It is under this surveillance that the two players present the story of
Orpheus, a gifted musician who traveled to Hades in an attempt to rescue
his beloved from a cruel, early death. However, just as the pair were
about to emerge out of the Underworld, Orpheus does the one thing he was
forbidden to do—he turned around and looked at Eurydice and she
was lost to him forever.
This Greek mythology serves as a foundation to this multi-layered play,
with many intricacies throughout, most notably the adept dialogue and
the inclusion of dance. Drawn from the writings of Marguerite Duras, Sigmund
Freud, Andre Breton and Abbot & Costello, the elliptical dialogue
is distilled and engineered into encrypted conversations so complex and
intriguing, it leaves one wanting to see the play again to pick up everything
missed the first time.
These encryptions are insightful and often humorous; they are simple exchanges
which conceal complex reverberations. Additionally, the movement score
is rooted in traditional Greek folk dance and statuary. It is unusual
but befitting all at once and a pleasure to watch.
The on-stage action is mesmerizing as Kronis and Alger interact with one
another as well as the projected images on the panels. Their performances
are both intense and amusing, with seamless transitions between complete
seriousness and the totally absurd. The design is purely brilliant.
Dry Cleaning is more than just a great play: it is a unique experience
in modern art. The ingenuity and intense work of its creators, Webster,
Kronis and Alger, is evident in every carefully planned-out moment, creating
a production that is visually stunning and mentally stimulating. “You’ve
got a point,” the scrap of paper promised. Dry Cleaning delivered.
LA WEEKLY review
by Steven Mikulan
Theater Movement Bazaar's retelling of the Orpheus myth
is all about coming in from the cold and, in a McLuhanist sense, fittingly
relies on the cool media of video to narrate its story. Co-creators Tina
Kronis and Richard Alger portray two enigmatic figures inhabiting some
Cold War of intrigue. They might be lovers, couriers or secret agents
but, above all, they are a man and woman who are separated from one another.
It is up to Alger, dressed in a suit, long coat and Fellini hat, to return
Kronis to his world from captivity and, after an hour of choreographed
movement (designed by Kronis), he comes, shall we say, tantalizingly close
to success. Kronis and Alger interact with video projections (designed
by Peter Flaherty of footage shot by Michael Glover) of themselves and
of physical settings that appear on sliding panels, so that virtual doors
open to let various characters pass, or provide them with halls to wander
down. Dry Cleaning's cynical joke-and-dagger milieu, as well as its vintage
pop score, is familiar to any aficionado of 1960s spy films, with the
actors speaking in deadpanned conversations of passwords and non sequiturs.
While it's difficult in Alger's text to locate Dry Cleaning's Greek source
inspiration (or, for that matter, to readily recognize quotes attributed
to Marguerite Duras, Sigmund Freud and others), the evening, ably directed
by Jeff Webster, glides along on its own momentum, a flawless ballet of
actors, video and erudite gags. Sometimes the show, which is so dependent
on the synchronization of technologies, seems to cutely wander down Wooster
Street, but this remains a fresh and original work by a talented company.
Theater Movement Bazaar at 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St.; Fri.,
8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (213) 745-6516. (Steven Mikulan)
Reviewed By Dink O'Neal
Without presuming to psychoanalyze the team of Richard Alger, Tina Kronis,
and Jeff Webster, this world premiere collaboration has resulted in one
of the most fascinating productions in recent memory.
This cloak-and-dagger take--the title refers to an espionage term--on
the mythology of Orpheus and Eurydice is jaw-dropping performance art
at its finest, as facets of traditional storytelling mingle with
choreography and astonishing mixed-media effects.
A series of overlapping moveable panels, ably moved by crew members C.M.
Gonzalez and Todd Silver, spans the stage. Photographic images, some still
and some in motion, play across the infinitesimally varied screen combinations.
Deserved kudos to cinematographer Michael Glover and video designer Peter
Flaherty, whose work demonstrates flawless attention to detail. Performers
Kronis and Alger appear on film and transition seamlessly in and out of
live scenes with almost magical virtuosity. Their execution of Kronis'
choreography, modern in origin yet humorously reminiscent of the Travolta-Thurman
duet from Pulp Fiction, is top-notch.
As the story of two amorously connected spies, separated by a symbolic
death or simple skulduggery, plays out, the two actors assume various
personas with the aid of Ellen McCartney's array of muted film noir costume
designs. Emphasizing a style of deadpan earnestness for his talented duo's
delivery, director Webster, whose multilayered sound design is score-like
in its intensity, augments his understated scene work with flashes of
This piece requires a small amount of homework on the part of attendees.
Without foreknowledge of the original tale, one might emerge mentally
fogged. Take a few extra moments to bone up on the source material, ably
provided via program notes; it will become apparent that this trio of
creative minds pays homage to the Greeks.
This engrossing invention dares one to join it out in left field for an
hour-long romp of bizarre, sense-challenging imagery. (Dec. 1, 2004)
-- David C. Nichols
Orpheus does 'Dry Cleaning'
Since 1997, Tina Kronis and Richard Alger have been blurring lines between
art and theater, dance and speech, music and cinema. In "Dry Cleaning,"
their latest Theatre Movement Bazaar performance piece, this audacious
duo raises its own stakes, refracting mediums into one imposing organism.
Created in collaboration with 24th Street Theatre, "Dry Cleaning's"
title alludes to the inaction that spies observe when they know they are
under enemy scrutiny. This proves central to "Dry Cleaning,"
which surveys the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through a wry espionage
It opens on a gray void, broken by Kronis' projected eyes, followed by
the edifice of the Hotel Cyprus (videos designed by Peter Flaherty). A
woman (Kronis) looks warily out. A man (Alger) lounges in an adjoining
bedroom. Director-production designer Jeff Webster's sound goes from trance
music to traffic noise, and an enigmatic exchange of encrypted intrigue
begins. Alger's narrative traces Orpheus' trip to Hades to retrieve his
dead wife with witty interdisciplinary cohesion, the references ranging
from "Alphaville" to Abbott and Costello. Webster, Flaherty
and cinematographer Michael Glover negotiate the aperture-minded set and
Kronis' choreography to create a holographic playing field. Ellen McCartney's
costumes take the disguise motif and run with it. Chris Akerlind's lighting
meets every challenge of perspective. As performers, Kronis and Alger
operate in effortless tandem, her Callas-like intensity precisely attuned
to his coiled deadpan energy. Only the muted emotional tone softens the
visceral impact. Still, "Dry Cleaning" is original, and its
angular elegance is altogether arresting. (Dec. 3, 2004)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Lopez
What do you get when you fuse cinematography, video, music, dance, repetitive
moment with theater? Answer: Dry Cleaning, created by Jeff Webster, Tina
Kronis and Richard Alger, is a super-charged, highly satisfying art performance
that delights the senses with its stunning visuals and catchy musical
numbers that grab your attention from start to finish. Its key performers,
Tina Kronis and Richard Alger, transport you to a different world; from
one scene to the next…this is a fun trip!
Hypnotizing scenes, flickering movement, rapid changes and perfectly executed
moves make Dry Cleaning a sheer joy to experience. Based on the Orpheus
and Eurydice legend, about a musician who falls in love, marries to later
lose her in death, Orpheus, unable to accept her death, plunges to the
depths of hell and finds her. He persuades Hades to release her, which
he does, on one condition: that Orpheus not look back as he is leaving.
He disobeys this command and, consequently, loses his beloved woman forever.
Which brings us to this story: The first scene is presented in film, a
man and a woman appear on stage as they arrange to meet for a rendezvous
somewhere in Greece or Italy. The whole story revolves around the man
chasing after this woman until it reaches its bizarre ending. The characters
looked like something out of 1950s period-like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid
Bergman in the movie Casablanca. They were cool, sophisticated and somehow
really modern. The changing visuals gave it a very energetic feel. It’s
amazing to watch as these performers lose themselves and reappear in a
Michael Glover, cinematography, and Peter Flaherty, video designer, do
a tremendous job in bringing together a combination of art forms to create
a dramatic explosion of visuals and sounds that provide a night of captivating
entertainment. The actors, provide not only live theater via their dialogue
and dance, actually become part of a seemingly living movie! It’s
something like I’ve never seen before, which I found both entertaining
and hypnotizing to watch. It’s something you simply must experience
Highly recommended!. (Jan. 2005)
PICK OF THE WEEK!
"On opposing sides of an expansive performance space, one line of
women and one of men, dressed in early-20th-century Western apparel, slowly
approach each other in gloom — starting, halting and starting again
to the strains of almost familiar music. Immediately, a sense of antagonism
between the sexes fuses with an equally powerful scent of the erotic —
themes August Strindberg confronted throughout his life as a playwright,
novelist and lover/hater of women. Strindberg’s writings are the
inspiration for this astonishing work of performance art in which director-choreographer
mellifluously animates 16 accomplished performers through a rapidly transforming
series of stylized human tableaux, ranging from tragic to bawdy to the
outlandishly absurd. Strindberg’s texts as arranged
by Richard Alger provide emotional clues but never establish a narrative
through-line — the words blend with an exquisitely eclectic soundtrack
that moves seamlessly between big-band music and heavily rhythmic contemporary
sounds. Themes of obsession run throughout — whether fixations on
the proper way to do the smallest things in life, or compulsions to engage
in the most grotesque behaviors. Not a moment is wasted in what seems
to be a masterpiece, with nary a visual nor aural flaw.
-- Tom Provenzano
"Talk about Strange. Strange Beliefs, the new play by Richard
Alger and Tina Kronis is credited as being suggested by the writings of
August Strindberg, the Swedish born author of the late 1800’s. Strindberg
was an avid writer, and experimented with different ideas and concepts
including the occult, dreams and death.
In the short foreword to “A Dream Play”, Strindberg
explained his intention with the play: "In this dream play, the author
has, as in his former dream play, “To Damascus”, attempted
to imitate the inconsequent yet transparently logical shape of a dream.
Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time
and place do not exist; on an insignificant basis of reality , the imagination
spins, weaving new patterns; a mixture of memories, experiences,
free fancies, incongruities and
The characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, disperse,
assemble. But one consciousness rules over them all, that of the dreamer;
for him there are no secrets, no scruples, no laws. He neither acquits
nor condemns, but merely relates; and, just as a dream is more often painful
than happy, so an undertone of melancholy and of pity for all mortal beings
accompanies this flickering tale."
Fast forward to the Sacred Fools, and Strange Beliefs and
if you’ve read Strindberg, you’ll see how bits and pieces
of his ideas fit it all over, in this completely surreal presentation
that keeps you nailed to the seat every minute.
Time and space seem absent from the sixteen players who frequent
the stage, sometimes two at a time, sometimes four, and once in a while
more. The eight men and eight women are divided in subgroups, and each
time a group appears, they are preoccupied with their particular theme,
sometimes prancing, sometimes doing dance, often walking in deliberate
skewed steps, and when they have their say, they disappear and a different
group comes on. It’s a little like a theme with variations, and
each variable gets more bent than the one before.
The playbill states that this is “non-narrative physical
comedy of the absurd”. That is so NOT true!. Don’t get us
wrong – it is non-narrative, in that there is no plot that has a
beginning, middle or end. It is physical, since there is a lot of
movement – dancing, bodies in transit here and there. It’s
the absurd that we quarrel with. This is so far beyond the envelope that
it begins to make sense! If you watch and listen carefully, you see there
is a great deal of truth being acted here . . . even if it is camouflaged
under the guise of absurdity.
The actors are completely into their character – whatever
that character is, and we willingly let our beliefs and sense of logic
go along for the ride, which they provide more than willingly. Sit back,
and let the flow of the actions and movement take you into their strange
world, and before long, you’ll see it’s not all that strange
and bizarre. In fact, it’s the world outside the theatre that will
seem different after the performance. When you meet people, you’ll
wonder where they got their strange beliefs.
When Tina Kronis refers to Strange Beliefs co-creator Richard
Alger as a "text amalgamator," you can tell we've left Neil
Simon territory far behind. While their latest production begins with
Swedish playwright August Strindberg as its leaping-off point, this is
not likely to be your show if you're
looking for biography, hagiography, or a vivid discussion of Miss Julie,
for that matter.
The uniquely non-linear approach Kronis and Alger bring to
their productions leaves audiences thrilled and nonplussed. Their previous
outing, Cirque Picnique, which began with William Inge's Picnic and
then went wandering far afield into Betty Crocker recipes and HUAC hearings,
left the audience members the night I attended looking at one another
trying to figure out if it was over or if the raised house lights were
simply another unexpected element of the production. When I rather abashedly
admitted this to Kronis, she assured me that it was perfectly OK as the
piece wasn't, in fact, over. It's never over. Kronis and Alger don't set
out to deliver a nice, neatly wrapped package to the audience.
What they strive for is the unique, the memorable, the resonant.
Strindberg caught the attention of the co-creators because
he was, some say, one of the first truly modern playwrights, others saying
he was either 50 years behind the times or 100 years ahead of them. It's
not just his writing, but also his life that intrigued. He was interested
in alchemy and mysticism (the strange beliefs of the title) and also
had a disconcerting habit of marrying strong women and then trying to
turn them into his mother. Thus the production will feature chemistry
texts, personal correspondence, and reviews of Strindberg's plays
in the mix, along with God only knows what else.
As the pair explained it, the process always begins with
the text and then just follows as one thing leads to another. The
result is a massive "keep pile" which Kronis and Alger whittle
away at until they have a workable amount of material. The text is
then lifted completely out of context to render it idea- and gender-neutral
and then rearranged according to rhythms and juxtapositions that please
the creators. From this arrangement spring images and a whole movement
vocabulary, derived from Kronis' training in dance, mime, clowning,
and at the Moscow Art Theatre. The way an actor negotiates space, Kronis said
she finds, can change everything. To her, choreography and direction are inseparable:
It is through the physical that the emotional can be discovered,
the body is the story.
By the time the work goes into rehearsal, Kronis and Alger
may not yet know exactly what the production will be, but they have
a definite map so that if they get lost they'll at least know where they got
lost from. Text might yet be rearranged, and actors will be assigned according
to what they can bring to the piece. As the actors are frequently
the same from show to show (this one includes Aldrich Allen, Shirley
Anderson, Melina Bielefelt, Tom Chalmers, Jake Eberle, Aaron Francis,
Crystal Keith, Corey Klemow, Majken Larsson, Julie A. Lockhart, Peter
Mattsson, David LM McIntyre, Michelle Philippe, Pogo Saito, Kim Weild,
and John Wuchte), the creators said they will occasionally add a scene
to take advantage of a particular
performer's strengths in a way that will add to the flow of the production.
Kronis, noting the damp, panicked look I take on when faced with complexity,
likened the process to raising a sheep: You have this big ungainly
sheep and the sheep generates useful wool, which is removed and separated
and carded and spun, and there's no way when looking at the source material
to know what you'll end up with. The actors end up being the final
threads, she explained, each unique in color and texture, woven together
to form an artistically pleasing whole, a singular piece of fabric.
If I can now belabor this metaphor beyond all reason, the
dyers will be working in earth tones and the cutters will be working
under orders from the costumers at Gunsmoke. Kronis and Alger want to
give the piece a Wild West flavor as a way of exploring the maverick
quality of the madcap Swede. As
Strindberg was born the year of the Gold Rush and died the year the Titanic
went down (1849-1912), his life was contemporary with that surprisingly
short period we think of as the gunslinging,
every-man-his-own-law Old West. It's not just the mores but also the physicality
of the frontier culture toward which Kronis gravitates.
If you've never seen the work of Kronis and Alger, be prepared
to see something utterly original. Pre-conceived notions will need
to be left at the door, as Kronis is out to "resonate with someone
on some level but not in a conditioned trope." If the lack of a coherent story makes you uncomfortable, that's
fine. The creators only wants that each audience member makes a personal
whatever parts float by that capture the viewer. It makes its demands,
but if you're going
after something worth doing, Kronis
said, "Don't take the easiest path, take the hardest."
Pick of the Week!
William Inge’s Picnic inspired Tina Kronis and Richard Alger’s
dance-theater spectacle (directed by Kronis). But don’t look
for the play here. Yes, there are words — plenty of them, from many
midcentury writings, including the 1954 McCarthy Senate subcommittee hearings
— but they’ve been
pretty much shredded into non sequiturs and ironies, accompanied by, say,
a mambo and the actors’ campy choreography that’s deliberately
robotic. The effect is not so much an expression of the arguments
that the original writings strove for, but a more generalized and abstracted
evocation of an era marked by political paranoia, suburban suffocation
and a fledgling women’s movement. The effect is also hypnotically
beautiful. (The opening scene has the company floating, or marching, or
ambling, at different speeds and at different depths, in a singular
direction across the stage’s expansive width.) The work represents
the latest horizon of performance art, inspired by director Anne Bogart.
The result is a taut precision of movement with a keen sensitivity
to stage pictures and triple-decker irony. For Kronis and Alger,
the work also shows an evolution from their Dumbshow of last year (based
on Russian writings, and similarly filled with whimsical vistas of
fear and loathing). The pristine cast includes Aldrich Allen, Aaron
Francis, Corey Klemow, David LM McIntyre, Peter Mattsson, John Wuchte, Melina
Bielefelt, Crystal Keith, Kelley Leathers, Julie A. Lockhart, Michelle
Philippe and Pogo Saito.
Steven Leigh Morris
In "Cirque Picnique" at the Sacred Fools Theater,
Tina Kronis and Richard Alger once again display the wit, whimsy
and rigor that distinguished "Dumbshow," their most recent previous
production with the Fools.
It's no coincidence that the creative duo's production company
is named Theatre Movement Bazaar. The typical Kronis and Alger production
is a marketplace of movement--riotous, exotic and
packed with an eclectic display of goods. A hybrid of dance, theater and
performance art, "Cirque Picnique" was inspired by William Inge's
"Picnic," as well as other "Cold War texts" ranging
McCarthy hearing transcripts to Betty Crocker commercials.
The dialogue is nonlinear and cryptic, fraught with period
paranoia. A blank-faced woman pronounces, "My deepest
fulfillment is food
preparation and housekeeping." Two men in suits react with alarm to
the sound of a ringing telephone. Three men, perhaps government
functionaries, obliquely discuss the prerogatives of power.
If that sounds dry, it isn't. Kronis directs with firm hand
and tongue in cheek, lacing her austere staging with moments of telling
humor. Obvious lampoons of the era's gender stereotypes abound. To the sound
of snappy music, a man removes his perfectly starched white shirt,
only to reveal another white shirt underneath, and another and another,
in cartoonish succession. Prostrate women are picked up by men and placed
carefully on their feet, only to flop lifelessly to the ground as
soon as the men leave their sides.
The production design by Kronis and Alger is first-rate, particularly
the sound, a perky blend of cha-cha and dissonance that is an effective
counterpoint to the atmosphere of underlying dread.
A crack ensemble brings Kronis and Alger's creative vision
to full life. From the opening scene, in which the performers simply
walk across the stage at different gaits, to the more intricately choreographed
sequences, the actors display such precision and purpose, even their eye
movements seem syncopated.
F. Kathleen Foley
Dumbshow is a tightly choreographed and delightful theater piece, ostensibly
about "getting the advantage" but seemingly more of a
whimsical dance about our regimented lives. Created by Tina Kronis
and Richard Alger, it’s accompanied almost entirely by crackling,
old phono recordings of accordian music or a small string combo.
All of which fits perfectly on the stage’s slatted wooden floor
and Victorian-era ambiance. The actors appear in three groups:
a pair of "comrades" (Peter Mattsson and John Wuchte) wobble their
way into a duel; a "panel" of frock-coated, stuffy men (Aldrich Allen,
Jay Harik, Corey Klemow and David LM Mcintyre) sit
rigidly side by side sipping tea. One gazes sneakily to the side at another,
before tossing off an oblique line or two from Gogol, and we’re
on to the next vignette. Finally, the gothic visage of "three
ladies" (Shirley Anderson, Kelley Justine Leathers and Michelle Phillippe)
weaves though the event as though they’re attached at the hip,
their faces glued into manic expressions. Snippets of text from
Gogol’s The Nose highlight the surreal fallacy of pushing ahead along
a trajectory of logic, while excerpts from Dostoyevsky’s Notes
From the Underground underscore our almost spiteful
determination to be anything but a cog — a blistering idea, given the
stage pictures in front of us.
Steven Leigh Morris
It could be Russian literature interpreted in a parallel universe.
It could be our daily lives parsed and haphazardly reassembled a
century ago. It could be pure theatre--from scripts to lighting--finely
distilled. It could be a new form of mathematical equation: Text
minus context equals twice
the subtext. Or we could merely sit by this 50-minute stream and
become hypnotized by its glistening patterns.
Created by Tina Kronis and Richard Alger, this production
combines bits of text from classical
Russians--Gogol, Dostoyevsky--with physical theatre that takes its movement
vocabulary from nearly familiar human actions, accompanied by musical
selections that are familiar by genre but in the main defy specific identification.
Linguistic and kinesthetic non sequiturs become the impetus for further
action. Uncomplicated answers are offered to questions never asked.
On the stage-within-a-stage set, the very upright Chekhovian
characters move through counter-intuitive choreography, body language
gone awry. Along nonsensical paths that get them where they're going,
they acknowledge, encourage, block, or propel one another. Simple
items--cup, saucer, and spoon--offer simultaneous opportunities for
power plays and teamwork. Meisner repetition exercises work perfectly
Aldrich Allen, Jay Harik, Corey Klemow, and David LM Mcintyre
could be pre-Politburocrats. Shirley
Anderson, Kelley Justine Leathers, and Michelle Philippe could be the
eponymous three sisters. Dean Jacobson, Majken J. Larsson, and Julie
A. Lockhart could be artistes of the theatre. Crystal Keith crafts a haughty
grande dame. Peter Mattsson and John Wuchte engage in a chummy, forgiving
duel. All are attuned to their characters, crisply rehearsed, and
extraordinarily focused onstage. Every bit of dialogue is given import
without strain, every gesture is meaningful but not blatant. Those who
momentarily recite in other languages leave the impression they are
Sometimes machine cogs in an alien society, the characters
turn hostile and animalistic, then again become properly civilized
beings, pinkies up as they drink tea. And if there must be an upshot here,
the evening concludes by showing us it does take more than two to
"This Surreal 'Dumbshow' Probes Our Primal Impulses"
Dumbshow at the Sacred Fools Theater is a surreal and nonlinear
piece that borrows freely from the works of Dostoevsky and Gogol
to "examine the primal human impulse to gain the advantage."
That quote is taken directly from the press notes. However, feel free
to interpolate your own meaning onto this bizarre but finely rendered
show, which consists of a series of brief and tightly choreographed scenes
set to eclectic music.
In the opening scene, the men and women of the large ensemble
move hectically about the stage, coalescing into a large circle.
They begin a playground clapping game, which evolves into a ring-around-the-rosy
dance, which ends with them dashing around in a long line, crack-the-whip
Through it all, the actors maintain a joyless deadpan, an
eerie juxtaposition to their childlike activities. The performers
ambulate as if they are on tracks, rushing about the stage but never colliding.
The ensemble quickly separates into recognizable groups.
Two male antagonists jockey continually for supremacy, brandishing
their suit coats in a bantam-like plumage
Four men sit in a formal tableau, stirring their tea, then
blowing bubbles through their "spoons."
Three women move like synchronized wind-up dolls, offering
such comments as "Men are still men, not piano keys." Two
other women cower in apparent terror, at one point donning white masks
and gesticulating from behind a black curtain. A sole woman moves
with dreamlike fluidity, inquiring, "Who do you think you are? The
king of Spain?"
And so it goes, urgently, playfully, mysteriously. Creators
Tina Kronis and Richard Alger (Kronis directs, with Alger assisting)
are longtime collaborators who have recently worked with the famed performance/puppetry
collective Mummenschanz. And indeed, a keen sense of whimsy underlies
their rigorous, purposeful staging. So, too, does a sense of collective
paranoia, the disturbing feeling that something dire awaits these
participants at the end of their random, not-so-senseless rounds.
F. Kathleen Foley