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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Jon Magaril
The basic outline of Alger's text cleaves close to Chekhov's original. We're introduced to the key staff and patients of a dilapidated, small town hospital before - and in the production it seems too long before - we meet Dr. Ragin (the perfectly cast Mark Doerr), the superintendent who's grown inattentive to his professional duties. In a world “where everything's upside down,” he's in-between, receding into his own private world of books and vodka. He converses only with the sweet but dull-witted Michael the postmaster (Jake Eberle). During one of Ragin's few hours at the institution, he finds himself accidentally visiting ward 6 for the mentally ill where he fatefully meets Gromov (a haunting Mark Skeens). Ragin realizes, “It's taken twenty years in this town to find an intelligent man and he's insane.”
The other doctors avoid dealing with the lunatics, so grow increasingly suspicious of Ragin's newfound interest in visiting the ward. They fire him. When Ragin loans his life savings to Michael to cover a gambling loss, Ragin's penniless state makes him increasingly voluble. The doctors lure him to visit ward 6 one more time where they imprison him. Things don't go better for him after that.
Alger mystifyingly gives more stage time to Ragin's relationship with Michael at the expense of the more compelling one with Gromov. The most prominent themes remain the fraught dualities between the sane and insane, the locked-up and free, abstraction and empathy, action and acceptance. The last two pair hold the most interest for Chekhov and could have been explored to more pointed effect by Alger and Kronis.
Alger throws in the occasional local and topical reference to let us know these ideas don't go out of style, but it lends an ish-ness to the production. Kronis' staging, which makes industrious use of props, always fascinates. Unfortunately, it lacks the emotional dynamism of fellow dance-theater practitioner Pina Bausch or the bravura uniqueness of Richard Foreman, whose work paved the way for Movement Theatre Bazaar's democratic focus on text, design, and performer.
Kronis succeeds completely in the rarest of Los Angeles theater accomplishments – molding her actors into a true ensemble. Each crafts vividly individualized characters while performing group choreography with unified precision. Nich Kaufmann brings the most comedy, yet finds the emotional center of every moment, even when in drag playing the only female role. Jacob Sidney as Ragin's professional rival finds the most opportunity to make movement a vehicle for character revelation. And he's grown an awesome 'stache.
Doerr's Ragin personifies a world in which “all fades away to gray.” His light gray hair and beard, light blue eyes, and pallor may first be seen as a sign of withdrawn colorlessness. Once he meets Skeens' soulful Gromov though, Doerr's ice melts, illuminating pools of emotion. His first act of anger bursts with a honed directness that takes the breath away. Oddly, Kronis gives her lead character the least movement, which undermines the style of the piece.
The design work is stellar across the board. Jeff Webster's set is composed primarily of two multi-faceted units which form a cabinet of wonders. Evoking a Louise Nevelson sculpture, the modules allow for a final image that gives blending in with the furniture a whole new meaning. Ellen McCartney's deconstructionist costumes are a stylish hoot. John Zalewski's sound design, running the gamut from ambient to ornate, gets the senses tingling.
The stage management team deserves a special shout out since the production relies on the synchronicity of sound and light. A cue called or executed even a fraction of a second late would break the spell. The performance I attended flowed like a dream.
The innovative approach of creative (and married) partners Tina Kronis and Richard Alger provides a potential cure for the theatrical ills of staid, conventional story-telling. Without plumbing the depths of Chekhov's tale or making a striking case for their particular take on it, The Treatment provides little lingering after-effect beyond an estimable respect for the talent on display in buckets (literally and figuratively) and a fervid wish to see what phantasmagoria the creators come up with next.