Troupe tries on Chekhov's masks

The everyday and ordinary don’t apply in the world of Theatre Movement Bazaar.

One of L.A.’s most unusual performance companies, TMB has been wowing audiences here with haunting, humorous and often startling mash-ups of theater and dance, dialogue, music and multimedia since it moved here from New York in 1999.

The company’s newest work, “The Treatment,” based by TMB founders Tina Kronis and Richard Alger on Anton Chekhov’s short story, “Ward 6,” will be presented in collaboration with Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, where the world premiere piece opens on Feb. 25.

Directed and choreographed by Kronis, with text by Alger, “The Treatment” explores the line between sanity and insanity, when a doctor in charge of a derelict mental hospital disrupts the societal status quo by engaging in philosophical conversations with an inmate.

“Ward 6,” with its bleak and brutal aspects and great chunks of dialogue and introspection, may sound like a daunting prospect for conversion into movement-based storytelling, but “in the simplest terms, it’s just the way we look at things,” Alger said. “And ‘Ward 6’ struck us as being a fascinating look at how we all have masks that we wear, and theater is always using that device, so it became this interesting correlation between the art form and this kind of societal journey that we all take.”

“Part of our process has always been to leave space for the physicality to come through,” Kronis said. “There’s a music score, a text score and a movement score that interweave and play and support each other. It’s a game of chance as to which one is going to come to the surface in a certain scene or at a certain moment in the play. It also reframes the work, refracts it into different pieces.

“The way I see the piece is that it’s all danced,” she said, even the text and the interaction between the actors. “I see it all as part of the dance of the characters, of the story and of our humanity interplaying up on the stage.”

The six actors who will play the demanding multiple roles are Mark Doerr, Jake Eberle, Nich Kauffman, Matt Shea, Jacob Sidney and Mark Skeens. The design team includes Ovation Award-winning Chris Kuhl (lighting), John Zalewski (sound), Jeff Webster (sets) and Ellen McCartney (costumes).

Theatre Movement Bazaar began in 1996 in New York City as a collaboration between Kronis, whose background is in classical and modern dance, mime and mask work; and writer-performer Alger, a former mechanical engineer.

Influenced by Eastern European forms of theater and training, TMG draws upon an eclectic range of literary targets and aesthetic references. About the company’s Adam and Eve-inspired, “Monster of Happiness,” the Los Angeles Times noted that the production combined “the movement discipline” of early 20th century Russian theatrical innovator Meyerhold “and the fluidity of the Soviet film constructivists.”

LA Weekly dubbed “Strange Beliefs,” based on the writing of August Strindberg, an “astonishing work of performance art,” and called “Dry Cleaning” — a blend of espionage and Orpheus — “a flawless ballet of actors, video and erudite gags.”

Other inspirations have been Robert Louis Stevenson (“Model Behavior, i.e., the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) and William Inge (“Cirque Picnique”).

Chekhov, however, is TMB’s long-favored source material.

The company has taken on “The Three Sisters” (“Chekhov’s Sisters”) and “The Seagull” (“SeaGull”). “Cherry Jam,” commissioned by California Institute of Arts School of Theatre, was a perspective on Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” “Anton’s Uncles,” a deconstructed “Uncle Vanya,” was first to garner top honors at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe, with an Outstanding Theatre Award from FringeReview, which called the work “a stellar piece of physical theater.”

“The Treatment” will be TMB’s first-time collaboration with Boston Court, where distinctive, edgy and adventurous cultural explorations are a defining brand.

“It’s a good fit for us,” said Michael Michetti, Boston Court’s co-artistic director. “When we’re seeking a production for the theater, one of the ways we go about it is to ask artists whose work we love, ‘What is it that is burning a hole in your gut? What are you dying to do?’ And Chekhov is something that we are interested in as well.”

“When you see a traditional production of a Chekhov play,” Alger said, “they can sometimes be very serious and overly dramatic. We are taking that, bouncing it around a lot and trying to give it movement and energy and lots of humor, while letting the pathos exist at the same time.”

“That’s what Chekhov did so well,” Kronis said. “He had an amazing sense of humor and an unflinching eye for human behavior. That can be devastating and hysterically funny at the same time.”

So, while TMB’s uniquely stylized Chekhov take may be unexpected, it shouldn’t be distancing to an audience, Alger said. “We want to invite the audience in to engage with us. That’s something we always hope to achieve.”

LYNNE HEFFLEY writes regularly on theater and the arts for Marquee.


“The Treatment,” Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Opens 8 p.m. Feb. 25. Runs 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ends March 25. $34. (626) 683-6883.

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