It's a little more than an hour before curtain and the actors are splayed across the Boston Court Theatre's main stage in Pasadena, squatting, flexing and stretching. Dressed in a haphazard combination of sweats, T-shirts and running shorts, Mark Doerr, Jake Eberle, Nich Kauffman, Matt Shea, Jacob Sidney and Mark Skeens look less like performers limbering up before a show than they do long-distance runners preparing for a grueling marathon.
The show they're warming up is The Treatment, the newest from the precision-movement troupe Theatre Movement Bazaar. It's based on Anton Chekhov's short story "Ward 6," about a psychiatrist in a big hospital who befriends one of his patients. During the rehearsal process, director-choreographer Tina Kronis and her writer-performer husband, Richard Alger, aim to balance between allowing the actors free rein and using a firm hand to guide the text and the movement.
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Kronis, who sits in the empty house, looks up from last night's notes and calls the actors to order. As she runs the show's repertoire of tightly choreographed routines, she shouts out occasional micro-adjustments to the odd stance or gesture: "Mark, I need you to bring your face forward another two inches." "Matt, you need to rotate your head farther over your shoulder." Her tweaks seem to do the trick, as the evening's performance goes off like well-oiled clockwork.
The simile is apt. If anything compares to one of Kronis' meticulously composed and exhilaratingly synchronous dance-theater pieces, it's a calibrated watch movement. Unwinding in the green room after the show, Eberle readily agrees. "It's like building a car or a robot or whatever," he enthuses. "You build the structure of it and then you refine it so that it has a life. ... Everything feeds off of something else, whether it's dialogue or whether it's movement or whether it's the person next to you — it's all connected."
During rehearsal, says Skeens, a relative newcomer to the group, "Tina and Richard are so clear and specific. Yet they're also open to the formation of the project. She doesn't come in with this book and [say], 'OK, turn here, and blah, blah, blah and do it!' She lets each person fill the life of these movements."
But even if company-devising is part of the picture, it's clear who the lead devisor is, says Sidney. "In the scenes, [Tina] brings a really pretty complete chart and diagram of when each person is going to turn their head, and where your feet are supposed to be, and whether or not they're supposed to be parallel, and whether or not you're supposed to move your shoulders. That kind of stuff is not a general ensemble-development deal." —Bill Raden