Adam Cochran and Justin Nestor in Dr. C
(© Candida Nichols)
Adam Cochran and Justin Nestor in Dr. C
(© Candida Nichols)
A few years back David Greenspan took Aristotle's text for The Argument and turned it into a riveting solo performance theater piece. So one might hope for similar success from Dr. C (Or How I Learned to Act in 8 Steps), now at 3LD, an opera assembled from the texts of not only Aristotle, but other stage theoreticians. Unfortunately, the piece proves overly pretentious from the onset and becomes increasingly wearisome as it distills the ideas of some of great theatre practitioners in music and movement.

Conceived and directed by Rueben Polendo, Dr. C begins with eight performers being awakened by a robotic voice (Jenni-Lynn Brick) within the confines of a high-tech sleep chamber. (The show's scenic designer, Amy Charlotte Rubin, places the audience on two tiers on either side of a bare antiseptic stage.) After the company has pulled on quasi-military uniforms over Victorian undergarments, they're informed by the voice that they "will replicate with great exactitude the physical score" of the classic 1918 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and each is assigned a role.

As the piece progresses, though, these designations and the source film lose their importance, due to the lack of discernible narrative. Instead, the show consists primarily of the indefatigable ensemble crisscrossing the stage affecting the sort of jerky, jagged, and robotic movements that one may associate with the film. As they move, they sing and intone Ellen Reid's eclectic score, divided into eight sections, each of which has words from the writings of artists such as Brecht, Stanislavski, Grotowski, and Peter Brook.

Reid's music can certainly invoke an essence of the writers, whose work has been collaged by Polendo and Jocelyn Clarke. During the Brecht sequence, one hears echoes of Kurt Weill's dissonant European cabaret melodies, and there's a decided Hindi sound for the music which is used when the piece turns to Brook. Additionally, Polendo's staging and Scott Spahr's choreography often echo those writers; for example, there's lots of screaming during the Artaud sequence and the Grotowski segment has a semi-ritualistic feel to it.

But despite the variations in music and movement -- not to mention the impressive lighting and video design (from Kate Ashton and Jake Witten respectively) -- the piece eventually blurs into a kind of extended performance installation that may challenge the attention of even the most devoted theater lover.