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Monday, June 8, 2009

Review-Dr. C (Or How I Learned to Act in Eight Steps)

The Fab Marquee review by Peyton Wise.

Dr. C (Or How I Learned to Act in Eight Steps) is a revelation for theatre professionals. Structured as an examination in eight pieces, it explores theatre theory through the words of Aristotle, Adolphe Appia, Constantin Stanislavski, Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook and Anne Bogart. If none of these names is familiar, this is probably not the show for you. If they ring any sort of bells, be they present wedding bells or the vague echo of a school bell, this is a show you must see.

Adam Cochran & Justin Nestor
photos by Candida K. Nichols

The production notes describe the process as a combination of several scores: the text of the philosophers, the physical score (and some images) from the 1918 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and 3-Legged Dog’s swathe of technical playthings. While the technical score is indeed impressive, the music deserves its own entry on that list. Most of the text is sung or sprechtstimme, like a high mass acting class.

The production feels like reading a series of incredible short stories, related by theme but not creating an active arc. The audience becomes engaged in the individual images of the text and the overall question, but the piece not only doesn’t create a progression through them, it doesn’t seem to want to. Like the short stories of Italo Calvino or Sherman Alexie, you could experience the pieces in any order and find a revelation in each. It is the individually pieces that are compelling. The Brecht piece alone was well worth the evening and the actors seemed to feel the same way.

(Center) Adam Cochran & Justin Nestor
photos by Candida K. Nichols

The audience member is challenged to actively engage in the ideas presented verbally and visually, but the two are not the same thing. While they explore different images in the text, they make little attempt to present the writer’s overall philosophy. While the writers in question vary greatly in ideal performance style and spectator interaction, the audience relationship was the same throughout. It is a challenged and engaged audience relationship, but not one that reflects the individual philosophies. From the proponents of naturalism, to theatre of cruelty, alienation and communal sacrifice, the fourth wall remained like a scrim, gazed through but left intact.

Our guides through this strange and fascinating landscape are a phenomenal group of actors under what is clearly a strong director’s vision. The ensemble is incredibly engaged and physically precise. You sense that any one of these actors could carry a production, but they merged together to create a seamless whole. Likewise, the film, sound and light, while extravagant in their form, were tightly controlled to support the overall image of any given moment, a remarkable achievement given their inherent potential to overwhelm.

The Cast
photos by Candida K. Nichols

One of the most telling moments in the show I saw was a minor physical glitch, the kind that are sure to accompany almost any first preview. In most shows that claim honest interaction, a hitch like this throws actors off their rehearsed game and makes it clear that their ‘honesty’ is a performance. This difference between pretended and actual focus is why cats and dogs can steal a scene right out from under a human. The way the actors accepted it as part of the show and moved on served to highlight how present they are and what an incredible risks this production takes.

Theatre Mitu presents
Dr. C (Or How I Learned to Act in Eight Steps)
June 2-14, 2009
3LD Art and Technology Center

Tickets are $18.00. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

3LD Art and Technology Center | 80 Greenwich St at Rector St | Manhattan.

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