A Company's Growing Pains

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Typically, in the theater, adaptations follow one of two paths.

The first I'll call the magnifying glass approach. You recognize the original text, the same characters. It simply feels like a magnifying glass has been used to emphasize or highlight particular details (which, of course, obscures others).

The second mode of adaptation uses the original text as a point of departure. The resulting piece often barely resembles the original -- and at best transcends it.

It's in this second mode that much of Theater Movement Bazaar's early work resides. Rather than focusing on parts of a text, you had the sense that Tina Kronis and Richard Alger -- the creative force behind the company -- were seeing the source material through their own unique kaleidescope.

A perfect example was their take on Inge's Picnic called Cirque Picnique. The original play was merely a gateway, or a rabbit hole, into 1950's America. Their Picnique mixed Betty Crocker pie recipes with text from the House Un-American Activities Committee. The glue that held it all together was director and choreographer Tina Kronis' stunning physical vocabulary. As the name of the company -- Theater Movement Bazaar -- suggests, the pieces were as much about movement or dance as they were theater.

It's what made them one of my favorite LA companies.

In their more recent work, they've been edging closer to that other mode of adaptation -- one where the original arc of the play is left more or less intact. This journey, as rocky as it's been, has been fun to watch because for all of the excitement of their early work, it often felt like a series of brilliant fragments. A bit like a dinner made up of nothing but appetizers: sure the tastes were wonderful but there was a part of you that longed for the complete journey. You know -- soup to nuts.

Theater Movement Bazaar's latest piece Track 3 tackles Chekhov's Three Sisters. It's a hybrid of the two modes of adaption. There are still kaleidoscopic eruptions where dance overtakes action. Or Chekhov's text morphing deliciously into its own unique world when seconds after we hear "Stayin' Alive" the soldier Vershinin says, "Think of Copernicus, or Columbus, Darwin, the Monkees or the Bee Gees. How silly or unnecessary they seemed at first…"

It's just enough of a tweak to let us hear Chekhov with completely fresh ears. Like when Andre, the sister's only brother and hope for glory, makes a single playing card disappear into thin air. It's a bit of magic that brings home how he's gambling away what's left of the family's fortune.

While the 80-minute evening follows more or less the entire arc of Chekhov's original it feels oddly incomplete. For long-time fan's of the company, missing is the normally aggressive and wonderful design. The lighting lacks specificity and the sound score doesn't feel as intricately layered.

Still, it's thrilling to watch a company do what's all too rare in LA theater: to mature.

Track 3 plays at the Bootleg Theater through February 10.

Run time: 80 minutes with no intermission. NOTE the 7:30 curtain at Bootleg.

Banner image: Caitlyn Conlin (Irina), Kendra Chell (Olga) and Dylan Jones (Masha) in Theatre Movement Bazaar's Track 3. Photo by Justin Zsebe