For over 15 years, Theatre Movement Bazaar has graced area stages with wry, witty, and often unsettling takes on classic and classical texts. Tina Kronis and Richard Alger are at the heart of the business. Alger chooses, slices, dices, and reassembles texts always with a twist. Kronis gives the words life through vigorous, athletic choreography full of sight gags and flying props. They’ve applied a Picasso-meets-Jay Ward style to Inge, Strindberg, Williams, Stevenson, the Greeks, and others. This company’s postcards should be Möbius strips.
It takes considerable skill to pull this off in theory and in practice. Over the years, TMB has consistently found that performance and production talent in the city’s underappreciated small theatre community. These shows are eagerly anticipated and usually deliver the goods. Interestingly, the high water mark for TMB may have been 2006’s ‘Dry Cleaning’ where Kronis and Alger dispensed with the large cast and themselves performed their Le Carré version of Orpheus and Eurydice in front of mesmerizing video projections at the 24th Street Theatre. A more recent triumph was 2013’s ‘Hot Cat’ at Theatre of NOTE which kebabbed ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ with some of the most cohesive, hell-bent-for-leather ensemble acting in recent memory.
Unlike so many other excellent local companies, TMB has been recognized outside the city limits and has toured within the U.S. and to other countries. They recently premiered their latest underworld adventure this past weekend at South Coast Rep’s Pacific Playwright’s Festival. ‘Big Shot’ takes on the much-revered ‘Godfather’ film franchise and is a bit of a headscratcher. We swap the classical underworld of ghosts and gods for a modern one of guns and goombas. Compared to its predecessors, however, it is an alloyed delight.
Six fine actors play uncounted roles in scenes mixmastered from the book and movies. Mario Puzo testifies before Congress, Michael Corleone and Kay Adams nervously attend a wedding, the Corleone boys jockey for position, and Michael slowly shifts from hero to brute. Bones and the fourth wall break with regularity. Of all the major characters, Don Vito Corleone is not represented. We’re told that Mr. Brando was approached but that death cancelled his obligations. We, the audience, stand for him and the actors play their respects. We learn quite a bit about the performers themselves and their family backgrounds in the course of things. Those of us who have neither seen the movies nor read the book can be reassured since one of the actors hasn’t either.
It speaks to the power of the franchise and the production that we get it nevertheless.
At its best, ‘Big Shot’ is far more than just scene re-enactment. Decidedly non-Italian creators, cast, and crew churn up the meaning of family, belonging, honor, and the immigrant experience using the novel and films as a toolkit for their own purpose. The subtitle: “This is not the Godfather” suddenly becomes apt. The hallmark TMB physicality is out in force and the cast executes with panache flinging chairs and slurping pasta in natty suits and dresses without missing a beat.
But. American and LA theatre are both besotted by two unspeakable and inedible phenomena: The works of Chekhov and the musical. TMB has convicted themselves on multiple counts of the former through at least six adaptations. ‘Big Shot’ indicts them on a major count of the latter. There’s singing, lots of it. It’s not that the actors can’t sing, for they can. Even one or two Mob Hits could be charming in context and a good attorney could bargain it down to the slightly less felonious ‘its a play… with music’. But there’s enough of it and to so little purpose that it becomes the lead mixed with the gold. Yet there are those who like such things. If they like a little nonlinear storytelling with that, they will go batguano crazy for this production. Right-thinking followers of legitimate theatre should appreciate it albeit through tears of betrayal.
‘Big Shot’ plays through 3 May 2015 at South Coast Rep and then moves moves to The Bootleg Theater in the Rampart District from 14 May to 6 June 2015. The Bootleg boasts a wine and beer bar where audiences and artists alike can get bombed before, during, and after the show.
Big Shot A.K.A.: This is Not The Godfather
Created by Kronis + Alger
Directed and choreographed by Tina Kronis
Text by Richard Alger
Ensemble: Caitlyn Conlin, Mark Doerr, David Guerra, Jesse Myers, Paula Rebelo, Mark Skeens
Costume design by Ellen McCartney
Music direction/arrangement by Wes Myers
Stage managed by Richelle Buchmiller
Technical Direction by Aaron Francis
Scenic and sound design by TMB.
At South Coast Repertory – The Nicholas Stage
30 April through 3 May 2015
At The Bootleg Theater
14 May to 6 June 2015
2220 Beverly Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90057
Check http://www.bootlegtheater.org in May for ticketing information