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FROM THIS EPISODE

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.


Banner image: Jim Moody

Uncle Vanya

Anton Chekhov

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