Edgar Landa is intrigued by violence.
But that's not to say he's a savage sort with a proclivity for destruction, the Hollywood fight choreographer is quick to add.
Starting out as an actor, Landa began training with fight directors as he followed his curiosity about that place in each of us where the capacity for violence resides. He strove to understand what people are capable of under stress or when driven by rage or passion.
On the flip side, does a victim fight back? Why, under what circumstances and to what extent?
"An act of violence can be a push, shove, slap or stabbing someone 16 times," Landa, 43, said. "What causes that switch in people?"
He came to realize that most individuals, under certain conditions, are capable of brutality. Thankfully we don't always choose to engage that part of our personalities, though the fight-or-flight response can be life-saving, he said.
Landa is now working with the cast of "Reunion," which will be presented at South Coast Repertory starting March 9. No need for alarm. The leading men, Michael Gladis, Kevin Berntson and Tim Cummings, are not going to give each other a black eye (or worse).
"We are creating the illusion of violence, not violence itself," Landa remarked. "The audience [members] fill in a lot of the gaps in the illusion with their imaginations."
Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, "Reunion" is the world premiere of work by playwright Gregory S Moss.
"We read the play and did a workshop of it in the 2013 Pacific Playwrights Festival," said South Coast Repertory's artistic director, Marc Masterson. "Greg's character work and storytelling skills are first-rate."
Viewers will be privy to the humorous story of three friends — Max, Peter and Mitch — who reunite after a 25-year gap. The trio reflect on their misadventures, but the fun goes awry when they dredge up painful memories and struggle with apologies.
"It's such a unique play," Gladis, 36, said. "The first act is one thing, the second act something else entirely. It explores so many things — ideas about identity, especially as it pertains to who we were in high school and how we do or don't move on, friendship and estrangement, forgiveness of self and others. There's a lot going on in one play."
The fight scene in "Reunion" lasts between 90 seconds and two minutes and is born of boisterousness. The actors aren't trying to kill or aggressively hurt each other, but they do wrestle and throw some punches. Landa, who enjoys a collaborative process and arrives on scene with only sketches and rough ideas, believes that the scuffle will offer the audience insight into each character.
Although mostly popular for his role as Paul Kinsey on the TV series "Mad Men," Los Angeles-based Gladis finds that stage work offers "fulfillment," television "money" and films "embarrassment."
Plainly put, a theater show like "Reunion" is a luxury, said Gladis, who now opts for projects that involve writing and producing.
"Three weeks for rehearsal? Yes, please!" he said. "Twenty performances to play and explore and experience the feedback loop of energy between the actors, story and audience? Incredible. There's nothing like it for an actor — it's the best."
If You Go
Where: South Coast Repertory's Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Previews: March 9 to 13; opening night: March 14; regular performances: March 15 to 30
Cost: $22 to $72