Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
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Note: Apologies for the late posting of this review, due to medical issues.
Playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov must rank with some observers as among the most misunderstood authors in the canon of great playwrights. In his own time the plays he wrote as send-ups of the futile obsessions of human nature – especially aiming at the Russian landed class – were produced by the great Constantin Stanislavski to great success, but as if they were Greek tragedies. Companies elsewhere followed suit, and only in the past half century has his work often appeared as the satire it is.
His even more satiric, meanderingly brilliant short stories divided critics in their own time, seen as either brilliant or lazy, their bleak, wry humor ahead of its time. Yet, from this stream of consciousness style come the first blushes of absurdism, especially in those short stories.
All of which makes the production of “The Treatment” currently at The Theatre at Boston Court a logical progression. Adapted by Richard Alger from the Chekhov short story “Ward 6,” and directed/choreographed by Tina Kronis, this joint production by Boston Court and Alger/Kronis’ Theatre Movement Bazaar highlights the absurdity in both the tale and the telling.
Theatre Movement Bazaar bends the boundaries between traditional theater and performance art, using choreographed movements to emphasize themes of synchronicity, abandonment or individualism in the characters portrayed. A cluster of low level bureaucrats move as one, like a Greek chorus. A man of habit moves with a rhythmic beat underscoring the sameness of his days. Even the gender of the players becomes secondary to the story, and a small cast creates the larger framework for the tale being told by whipping in and out of costumes and attitudes as needs present.
The story examines the downfall of Dr. Ragin, a once-fine healer assigned to and beaten down by the role of Chief of Staff of an obscure government hospital. There his attempts to improve care have encountered such resistance he no longer bothers to appear at most meetings, or do much in the way of rounds, confirmed in his feeling that he can do no good there anyway. Then he meets Gromov, an occupant of the hospital psych ward. Desperate for intellectual conversation, he becomes fascinated by Gromov’s educated but twisted view of the world, and begins to unravel.
Mark Doerr makes the doomed Ragin personable, precise and deeply needy. As his deputy, and the consummately detached bureaucrat, Nich Kauffman provides the cold table upon which Ragin’s character is dissected. Mark Skeens manages articulate madness as Gromov, and along with an ensemble of Jake Eberle, Matt Shea and Jacob Sidney, creates all the many characters which people this terrible, intimate, fascinating telling of the ironic Chekhovian tale.
Ellen McCartney’s flexibly period costuming allows for quick partial changes and sudden shifts in tone. Jeff Webster’s scenic design creates a constant flow by virtue of fascinating movable panels. The movement of these becomes part of the choreography in a play where motion speaks as much as words. The entire piece is done without an intermission, which makes sense in that one should not interrupt what is essentially one long, fluid movement.
“The Treatment” is innovative theater, but then that’s what both companies involved with this production are all about. It’s a chance to encounter less-well-known Chekhov, which for me is always a singular delight. More than that, images from this piece will hum in your head afterward, as great storytelling always does, allowing the nuances in the cracks between sentences to shine ever more brightly. This is, by definition, the kind of thing theater can do which no other medium can match.
What: “The Treatment” When: Through March 25, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and Wednesday, March 21; 2 p.m. Sundays Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $34 general, $29 student/senior Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.com