Anderson, Melina Bielefelt,
Keith, Corey Klemow,
Julie A. Lockhart,
David LM Mcintyre,
Saito, Kim Weild,
Eden Young (understudy)
up where they left off with the critically-acclaimed dumbshOw
and CÏRQUE PÏCNÍQUE,
creators Tina Kronis and Richard Alger move to the Sacred Fools Mainstage with STRANGE
BELIEFS, a new work featuring the usual Kronis & Alger sense of humor, fun and
Bielefelt, Paul Byrne, Corey Klemow,
Julie A. Lockhart, David LM Mcintyre,
Ruth Silveira, Frank Stasio & Steve Tanner
Jordan, Aaron Francis,
Douglas Gabrielle & Meredith Patt
Weekly PICK OF THE
On opposing sides of an expansive performance space, one line of women and one of men, dressed in early-20th-century Western apparel, slowly approach each other in gloom — starting, halting and starting again to the strains of almost familiar music. Immediately, a sense of antagonism between the sexes fuses with an equally powerful scent of the erotic — themes August Strindberg confronted throughout his life as a playwright, novelist and lover/hater of women. Strindberg’s writings are the inspiration for this astonishing work of performance art in which director-choreographer Tina Kronis mellifluously animates 16 accomplished performers through a rapidly transforming series of stylized human tableaux, ranging from tragic to bawdy to the outlandishly absurd. Strindberg’s texts as arranged by Richard Alger provide emotional clues but never establish a narrative through-line — the words blend with an exquisitely eclectic soundtrack that moves seamlessly between big-band music and heavily rhythmic contemporary sounds. Themes of obsession run throughout — whether fixations on the proper way to do the smallest things in life, or compulsions to engage in the most grotesque behaviors. Not a moment is wasted in what seems to be a masterpiece, with nary a visual nor aural flaw.
When Tina Kronis refers to
Strange Beliefs co-creator Richard Alger as a "text
amalgamator," you can tell we've left Neil Simon territory far
behind. While their latest production begins with Swedish playwright
August Strindberg as its leaping-off point, this is not likely to be
your show if you're looking for biography, hagiography, or a vivid
discussion of Miss Julie, for that matter.
The uniquely non-linear approach Kronis and Alger bring to their
productions leaves audiences thrilled and nonplussed. Their previous
outing, Cirque Picnique, which began with William Inge's Picnic and
then went wandering far afield into Betty Crocker recipes and HUAC
hearings, left the audience members the night I attended looking at
one another trying to figure out if it was over or if the raised house
lights were simply another unexpected element of the production. When
I rather abashedly admitted this to Kronis, she assured me that it was
perfectly OK as the piece wasn't, in fact, over. It's never over.
Kronis and Alger don't set out to deliver a nice, neatly wrapped
package to the audience. What they strive for is the unique, the
memorable, the resonant.
Strindberg caught the attention of the co-creators because he was,
some say, one of the first truly modern playwrights, others saying he
was either 50 years behind the times or 100 years ahead of them. It's
not just his writing, but also his life that intrigued. He was
interested in alchemy and mysticism (the strange beliefs of the title)
and also had a disconcerting habit of marrying strong women and then
trying to turn them into his mother. Thus the production will feature
chemistry texts, personal correspondence, and reviews of Strindberg's
plays in the mix, along with God only knows what else.
As the pair explained it, the process always begins with the text and
then just follows as one thing leads to another. The result is a
massive "keep pile" which Kronis and Alger whittle away at
until they have a workable amount of material. The text is then lifted
completely out of context to render it idea- and gender-neutral and
then rearranged according to rhythms and juxtapositions that please
the creators. From this arrangement spring images and a whole movement
vocabulary, derived from Kronis' training in dance, mime, clowning,
and at the Moscow Art Theatre. The way an actor negotiates space,
Kronis said she finds, can change everything. To her, choreography and
direction are inseparable: It is through the physical that the
emotional can be discovered, the body is the story.
By the time the work goes into rehearsal, Kronis and Alger may not yet
know exactly what the production will be, but they have a definite map
so that if they get lost they'll at least know where they got lost
from. Text might yet be rearranged, and actors will be assigned
according to what they can bring to the piece. As the actors are
frequently the same from show to show (this one includes Aldrich
Allen, Shirley Anderson, Melina Bielefelt, Tom Chalmers, Jake Eberle,
Aaron Francis, Crystal Keith, Corey Klemow, Majken Larsson, Julie A.
Lockhart, Peter Mattsson, David LM McIntyre, Michelle Philippe, Pogo
Saito, Kim Weild, and John Wuchte), the creators said they will
occasionally add a scene to take advantage of a particular performer's
strengths in a way that will add to the flow of the production. Kronis,
noting the damp, panicked look I take on when faced with complexity,
likened the process to raising a sheep: You have this big ungainly
sheep and the sheep generates useful wool, which is removed and
separated and carded and spun, and there's no way when looking at the
source material to know what you'll end up with. The actors end up
being the final threads, she explained, each unique in color and
texture, woven together to form an artistically pleasing whole, a
singular piece of fabric.
If I can now belabor this metaphor beyond all reason, the dyers will
be working in earth tones and the cutters will be working under orders
from the costumers at Gunsmoke. Kronis and Alger want to give the
piece a Wild West flavor as a way of exploring the maverick quality of
the madcap Swede. As Strindberg was born the year of the Gold Rush and
died the year the Titanic went down (1849-1912), his life was
contemporary with that surprisingly short period we think of as the
gunslinging, every-man-his-own-law Old West. It's not just the mores
but also the physicality of the frontier culture toward which Kronis
If you've never seen the work of Kronis and Alger, be prepared to see
something utterly original. Pre-conceived notions will need to be left
at the door, as Kronis is out to "resonate with someone on some
level but not in a conditioned trope." If the lack of a coherent
story makes you uncomfortable, that's fine. The creators only wants
that each audience member makes a personal connection to whatever
parts float by that capture the viewer. It makes its demands, but if
you're going after something worth doing, Kronis said, "Don't
take the easiest path, take the hardest."
view of Strindberg August Strindberg goes through the absurdist blender in
"Strange Beliefs," cutting a wide, weird swath at Sacred
Fools Theatre. The latest offering by Theatre Movement Bazaar is a
smoothly mounted, impenetrable deconstruction of Sweden's dour
Theatre Movement Bazaar is the brainchild of Sacred Fools
artists-in-residence Tina Kronis and Richard Alger. Their work fuses
movement, sound, words and design into a deliberately odd conceptual
Previous shows include "dumbshOw" (Russian authors) and
"Cirque Picnique" (William Inge and the McCarthy hearings).
Now comes "Strange Beliefs."
It occurs in a futuristic, chartreuse-walled health spa, augmented by
wooden benches and observation cubicles. As sludgy house music pours
forth, the duskily clad ensemble haltingly enters from either side,
women opposite men.
They split off into random groupings that slowly evolve into a
synoptic series of poses, phrases and portentous encounters. These
transpire against an eclectic soundtrack of looped snippets ranging
from Irving Berlin to "Swan Lake," with everybody circling
the theater by the conclusion.
Kronis' sure direction affords her zany cast nonstop opportunities for
display, which all 16 certainly seize. However, the cracked deadpan
surface can't disguise a lack of textual coherence, and the links to
Strindberg are best left to thesis candidates.
There is obvious creative intent and some genuine humor here; fans of
academic theater may well be enraptured. Audiences unaccustomed to
unsubstantiated bizarreness, however, may just be baffled.
Talk about Strange. Strange
Beliefs, the new play by Richard Alger and Tina Kronis is credited
as being suggested by the writings of August Strindberg, the Swedish
born author of the late 1800’s. Strindberg was an avid
writer, and experimented with different ideas and concepts including
the occult, dreams and death.
In the short foreword to “A Dream Play”, Strindberg explained his
intention with the play:
this dream play, the author has, as in his former dream play, “To
Damascus”, attempted to imitate the inconsequent yet transparently
logical shape of a dream. Everything can happen, everything is
possible and probable. Time and place do not exist; on an
insignificant basis of reality , the imagination spins, weaving new
patterns; a mixture of memories, experiences, free fancies,
incongruities and improvisations.
characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, disperse,
assemble. But one consciousness rules over them all, that of the
dreamer; for him there are no secrets, no scruples, no laws. He
neither acquits nor condemns, but merely relates; and, just as a dream
is more often painful than happy, so an undertone of melancholy and of
pity for all mortal beings accompanies this flickering tale."
Fast forward to the Sacred Fools, and Strange Beliefs and
if you’ve read Strindberg, you’ll see how bits and pieces of
his ideas fit it all over, in this completely surreal presentation
that keeps you nailed to the seat every minute.
Time and space seem absent
from the sixteen players who frequent the stage, sometimes two at
a time, sometimes four, and once in a while more. The
eight men and eight women are divided in subgroups, and each time
a group appears, they are preoccupied with their particular theme,
sometimes prancing, sometimes doing dance, often walking in
deliberate skewed steps, and when they have their say, they
disappear and a different group comes on. It’s a little
like a theme with variations, and each variable gets more bent
than the one before.
The playbill states that this is “non-narrative physical comedy of
the absurd”. That is so NOT true!. Don’t get us wrong
– it is non-narrative, in that there is no plot that has a
beginning, middle or end. It is physical, since there is a lot
of movement – dancing, bodies in transit here and there.
It’s the absurd that we quarrel with. This is so far beyond
the envelope that it begins to make sense! If you watch
and listen carefully, you see there is a great deal of truth being
acted here . . . even if it is camouflaged under the guise of
The actors are completely into their character – whatever that
character is, and we willingly let our beliefs and sense of logic go
along for the ride, which they provide more than willingly.
Sit back, and let the flow of the actions and movement take you into
their strange world, and before long, you’ll see it’s not all that
strange and bizarre. In fact, it’s the world outside the
theatre that will seem different after the performance. When you
meet people, you’ll wonder where they got their strange beliefs.
The latest work of theatre
makers Tina Kronis and Richard Alger pulls together a text collage
inspired by the life and works of August Strindberg for its
"non-linear, non-narrative physical comedy of the absurd."
Because movement is the primary language of the piece, an encyclopedic
knowledge of the Swedish playwright/poet/novelist/painter presumably
is not required of the audience (though being without one, I can't
believe it wouldn't help). Rather, the viewer's enjoyment depends,
perhaps too heavily, on the imaginative quirks that he or she brings
to the performance. Whether one is struck funny by an abrupt reference
to all-you-can-eat cheese, intrigued by an absurd socioeconomic
treatise on shoes, or captured by a peculiar phrase or rhythm or
gesture is a highly personal matter. Personally, I laughed out loud a
few times and was fully engrossed a few times by this series of
stylized, minutely choreographed vignettes. On the whole, however, I
wanted more resonance, less abstraction, and perhaps what the
conceivers had no intention of providing: more of a feeling it was all
adding up to something.
Though it contains loud echoes of Strindberg--his fearless invention,
paranoia, interest in alchemy, his misogyny and anxiety about social
class--the piece seems not to be about Strindberg. Instead, text
amalgamator/assistant director Alger lets the words take on a life of
their own. The piece loosely explores artistic experimentation and its
attendant pathos, hiccuping with seemingly random emotion and
confession, and weighted by rigid social codes and procedures.
Director/choreographer Kronis underlines the humor, urgency, whimsy of
the words with movements that range from various dance styles to an
array of twitches, which a fine 16-person ensemble executes with few
missteps. One can't help but note the strength of the collaboration,
how the words and movements buoy each other without ever competing.
Kronis and Alger are also responsible for the set and lighting, which
use multiple spaces, clean lines, and shadows to create striking,
As artful as these effects are, however, they are not always
remarkable enough to keep us engaged without the benefit of linearity
or accumulation. When they are, the reasons are as mysterious as when
they aren't. For instance, The Concierge (Aldrich Allen)--who spins on
his chair while doing a series of subtle movements, pauses with his
hand in the air as if holding a tray, then delivers a speech on the
art of bathing--had me rapt. Same goes for The Chefs (Shirley Anderson
and Corey Klemow) who introduce themselves with a terribly urgent
dialogue on the solid, liquid, and gas states of soup. In such images,
one sees the potential of this work to defy the need for sense and
context and place us solidly, innocently in the moment.