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Beauty and The Beast – Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
December 8, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Irinka Kavsadze as Belle, Vato Tsikurishvili as The Beast. Photo by Johnny Shryock

Irinka Kavsadze as Belle, Vato Tsikurishvili as The Beast. Photo by Johnny Shryock

In Ben and Peter Cunis’s original adaptation of Gabriel Bardot de Villeneuve’s classic tale of Beauty and the Beast, the audience finds themselves catapulted into a dark world of forest spirits, shapeshifters, a hideous horned beast and a vengeful beauty – – no, not the beautiful ingénue Belle – – but the prince’s spurned first love, Emmeranne, who morphs into a magnificent crow in a scene plucked straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds putting death and destruction foremost on her agenda and setting up the audience for an indelibly unique interpretation.  The scorned woman is an introduced character serving as the prince’s nemesis and his reality check.  In this telling she is hell-bent on revenge and retribution for his fickle-minded affections.

Renata Veberyte Loman plays the hauntingly vengeful Witch and Narrator, Emmeranne, who taunts and curses the man she has transformed into a terrifying beast. “Crows don’t talk.  And love never, ever hurts,” the enchantress proclaims, determined to demonstrate the opposite.  Don’t look for Disney’s saucy little teapot to make an appearance.  The Cunis brothers’ highly imaginative bedtime story is more in keeping with the fiendish fairy tales of the brothers Grimm, or the moralistic fables of Hans Christian Anderson.

Renata Veberyte Loman as Narrator/Witch “Emmeranne”. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Renata Veberyte Loman as Narrator/Witch “Emmeranne”. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Another introduced character is the top-hatted Fantome, the Beast’s magical servant.  Matthew Alan Ward gives a captivating performance in a silent role that draws on his elegant physicality and talent for mime.

Vato Tsikurishvili portrays the Prince and the Beast with both heart and soul, rendering him monstrous at times, at others, as sympathetic a character as Quasimodo.  Irina Kavsadze, a delicate beauty who is the perfect foil for the diabolical Emmeranne, the fearsome beast and the castle’s living candelabras that make up the ensemble, plays Belle.

Irinka Kavsadze as Belle. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Irinka Kavsadze as Belle. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Delivering the perfect alignment of creativity are Scenic Designer Daniel Pinha’s opulent sets and dual ramps providing both comedy and drama, Clint Herring’s original score blending new wave and classical sounds, Sound Designer Thomas Sowers’ eerily futuristic effects, Lighting Designer Brittany Diliberto’s clever transitions all of which combine to produce some splendid special FX throughout, including the Prince’s transmogrification and the creation of a projection screen in the shape of an egg through which the audience views a parallel universe depicted in silhouetted woodcuts.

Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography adds kinetic flair to a memorable slow motion fight-and-flight scene and a romantic danse è deux between Belle and the Beast, while Costume Designer Kendra Rae draws on leather, silk, fur to reflect lost elegance and folklorica to offer a comedic relief in the costumes of Belle’s ditzy sisters played by Anna Lane and Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly.

Lest you think it’s too scary for children (though I wouldn’t recommend it for the very young), as the theatre was letting out, I asked an eight-year old if the witch had frightened her.  “Not at all,” she declared, to which her father added, “She’s not afraid of anything.”

Utterly spellbinding.

Through January 11th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 866 811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

The Island of Dr. Moreau at Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
October 7, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Synetic Theater has taken H. G. Well’s science fiction classic The Island of Dr. Moreau and morphed it into a frighteningly realistic maelstrom of horrors, just in time for Halloween.  For those who like being terrified by a mad scientist whose muse is a vengeful half human half feline fiend, sit back and settle in for a wild ride and a landscape filled with vivisected beasts – the good doctor’s engineered experiments.

Alex Mills as Parker and Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau - Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Alex Mills as Parker and Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau – Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Alex Mills plays Parker the hapless shipwreck victim, washed upon the shores of a Pacific atoll thousands of miles from civilization and light years from reality.  When he recalls that the doctor was blackballed from the scientific community for his gruesome experiments on humans, he begins to fear for his life amid the zombies – – as well he should.  To understand what machinations are transpiring within the laboratory he forms a friendship of convenience with Moreau’s dedicated assistant Montgomery (Dallas Tolentino) who between nips from a silver flask, assures him that the doctor will save the world by designing a better, more efficient human being.  “All he creates is suffering and the deification of himself,” Parker declares.

Paata Tsikurishvili plays Dr. Moreau with evil swagger and a studied nonchalance. “The law is not to eat flesh and not to go on all fours,” he warns the six beasts, insisting they parrot his edicts on command.  When he delivers the lines, “The crafting of living flesh has been around for a long time,” and “Real progress can only be achieved by someone as remorseless as myself,” we begin to see what a hideous monster he really is.

The beasts. The Island of Dr. Moreau -  Photo by Johnny Shryock

The beasts. The Island of Dr. Moreau – Photo by Johnny Shryock

Irina Tsikurishvili creates the spectacular choreography that interweaves the plot with the characters’ action and Set Designer Phil Charlwood’s massive metal sculpture in the shape of a butterfly wing (Parker is a lepidopterist) that the beasts use to clamber on, keeps them in sight but removed from the scene.  Kendra Rai’s breathtakingly phantasmagoric costumes reflecting the tormented creatures’ many excisions, alterations and freakish attachments, serve to magnify the ongoing suffering and torture of the bizarre beasts.

This is heightened by Brittany Diliberto and Riki K.’s multi-media, electronic light show accentuated by lasers, glowing chemicals and theatre-filling galaxies to accompany the original, unearthly synthesizer score by Irakli Kavsadze.

Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau and Pasquale Guiducci as Sayer in The Island of Dr. Moreau -  Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau and Pasquale Guiducci as Sayer in The Island of Dr. Moreau – Photo by Johnny Shryock.

It’s all a harmonic exercise in sci-fi weirdness, calibrated to raise goosebumps on even the most hardened futurists.

Through November 1st at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1 800 494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) – Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
May 9, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Photo by Koko Lanham. Tim Getman as George, Rob Jansen as Harris, Tom Story as Jerome, Alex Mills as Montmorency

Photo by Koko Lanham. Tim Getman as George, Rob Jansen as Harris, Tom Story as Jerome, Alex Mills as Montmorency

In a departure from the dance-centric, laser-lit, sexy productions I’ve come to expect from Synetic, along comes Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).  I suppose I wasn’t ready for it though I’d previewed a snippet of a trailer on their website and knew that the cast was all-male – – another anomaly.  The first exercise for this reviewer was looking for the existentialistic message, I’d been told there was one, though you shouldn’t let that get in the way of the hilarity which gets off to a terrific start in Set Designer Lisi Stoessel’s version of a 19th Century England drawing room replete with chaise longue, Japanese screen and quaint settee.  Here three down-at-the-heels high society bachelors, with an aversion to real work and a keen sense of the leisure life, are mulling over the state of their humdrum lives.  To remedy their ennui the friends fantasize about camping in the great outdoors and decide to take a ten-day boating adventure on the Thames.

Photo by Koko Lanham. Rob Jansen as Harris, Tom Story as Jerome.

Photo by Koko Lanham. Rob Jansen as Harris, Tom Story as Jerome.

Jerome (Tom Story), a self-proclaimed hypochondriac, passes the time perusing medical journals, imagining he has every disease in the book, beginning with the letter A.  “I have everything but housekeeper’s knees,” he proudly announces to Harris (Rob Jansen).  All three of these blasé fops seize every opportunity to proclaim their views on the state of the world and their dissatisfaction of it.  The kicker is in the actors’ to-the-manor-born delivery – – utterly deadpan and screamingly sardonic.

Photo by Koko Lanham. Tim Getman as George.

Photo by Koko Lanham. Tim Getman as George.

But, alas, these scions of British society are reduced to sharing rented rooms.  And though only one of them, George (Tim Getman), has a job, at least Jerome has a dog to occupy his time – – a fox terrier named Montmorency (Alex Mills) – – whose doggy thoughts are translated to us by his master.

After reading of fatalities on the river and ominous weather reports they nevertheless decide to push off.  Projections Designer, Shane O’Loughlin, effectively uses images projected onto the five-fold screen to capture the changing landscape of the men’s journey.

Photo by Koko Lanham. Projections by Shane O'Loughlin.

Photo by Koko Lanham. Projections by Shane O’Loughlin.

Their patter is straight out of the P. G. Wodehouse School of English Humor and Wit with room for Jerome’s waxing poetical, and metaphorical, about nature.  “Night is like Mother,” expounds Jerome in one of his tender moments.

There are countless hilarious scenes as one hapless antic leads to another.  When it is discovered that there is no mustard for their cold meat it nearly causes a riot.  “I grow restless when I want a thing,” Jerome explains.  Another scene has them trying to trick a teapot into boiling by pretending to ignore it.  While on the boat, which they appear to have appropriated, it’s when they realize they have forgotten to pack a can opener for a tin of pineapple.  After they try opening it with a knife, scissors and even an umbrella (which they have needlessly remembered to bring), they begin to go mad from hunger, threatening murder and mayhem upon each other.  At this point the dog catches a rat which he unceremoniously offers up, challenging them to plop it into their crazy concoction of an Irish stew.  Absurdity promptly ensues.

Alex Mills as The Dog, is adorable.  His brilliant capturing of a dog’s personality (he studied footage of Jack Russell Terriers while others were rehearsing their lines) and excellent pantomime prove to be the most endearing of the script’s dynamic.

Through June 8th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Hamlet…the rest is silence – Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
March 17, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Alex Mills as Hamlet. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Alex Mills as Hamlet. Photo by Koko Lanham.

As far as this critic is concerned Synetic can do no wrong.  How could you fault their electrifying choreography, their spectacular dancers or their break-the-mold interpretations of the classics…especially in their noted Silent Shakespeare series.    Theatre critics from the New York Times to the Washington Post have rained down superlatives on them and they have garnered 24 Helen Hayes Awards and 92 nominations to prove them right.  Hamlet…the rest is silence is the production that started it all – – a magnificent journey that took hold of our collective psyches a decade ago.   For those of us who are already converts, it’s a trip down memory lane.  For newer audiences it is a ticket to the ensemble’s evolution and a view through the looking glass into their groundbreaking productions.

I’d suggest brushing up on your Hamlet before you go.  The program doesn’t explain the plot.  You’ve only got a listing of the scenes to go on – “Something is Wrong in the State of Denmark”, “Murder Most Foul”, “To Be Or Not To Be”, etc. and with such innovative interpretations and no dialogue you could get lost in the translation, as they say.

Irakli Kavsadze as Claudius and Irina Tsikurishvili as Gertrude with Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Irakli Kavsadze as Claudius and Irina Tsikurishvili as Gertrude with Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham.

In a play that presents revenge, romance, and tragedy without words, it is up to the dancers, the lighting and the sound design to convey complex emotions.  And here it is done in a whirlwind of riveting pantomime, garish lighting and mood altering music – all coordinated to lend a somber tone and element of danger.

Costume coordinator Claire Cantwell has chosen funereal black and gunmetal grey with splashes of blood red, while lighting designer Brittany Diliberto bathes the set with midnight blue, poison green and fiery red, to echo the nefariousness of the characters’ motives.  Sound designer Irakli Kavsadze pulls out all the stops, using heavy backbeat rock, New Age, classic, military flourishes, and an eerie tango for Claudius (Irakli Kavsadze) and Gertrude (the magnificent Irina Tsikurishvili, who is also the ensemble’s co-founder and choreographer) to frame the macabre machinations.  Watch for Irina Kavsadze, a sensuous pre-Raphaelite beauty who plays Ophelia.  Her portrayal of the devoted daughter, who shows her love for Hamlet in an early scene where the two lovers tenderly mirror each other’s hands and bodies, is powerful counterpoint to her fiery solo as Ophelia descending into madness.

Irina Kavsadze as Ophelia with Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Irina Kavsadze as Ophelia with Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham.

The dancing is flawless, as expected.  Can anyone say anything new about the caliber of excellence Synetic offers?  Alex Mills digs deep into the role of the conflicted Hamlet to pull out an intricately crafted portrait of a megalomaniacal madman.  Just remember this is not typical of the high-flying, production-on-steroids Synetic of today.  It is a spare yet focused reinvention – – the one that brought the world to their doorstep.  And it plays out like a journey to the center of the earth smack after the Big Bang.

Through April 6th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Twelfth Night Jitterbugs Into the Jazz Age At Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
January 13, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Philip Fletcher as Orsino and Kathy Gordon as Olivia. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Philip Fletcher as Orsino and Kathy Gordon as Olivia. Photo by Koko Lanham.

If you’re planning on seeing Twelfth Night, the tenth production in Synetic Theater’s “Silent Shakespeare” series, you’d better dust off your Shakespeare.  Because though the plot is predictable, this production will not recall any Shakespeare play in theatre history.  In a drop dead fabulous re-interpretation of the 1920’s movie era, Director Paata Tsikurishvili has chosen a cinematic theme as his unconventional backdrop for pantomime, slapstick, killer dance sequences and a highly eclectic music score.

Picture a movie set replete with klieg lights, pulleys, ladders, a giant scrim, a camera dolly, and vintage Moviola editing equipment.  On stage left there’s an upright piano concealing a secret bar and Scott Joplin rags play on a Victrola.  It’s the Roaring 20’s when the Charleston was king, Chaplin ruled the silver screen, and the Lindy Hop lured partiers high on bathtub gin onto dance floors across America.

Alex Mills as Sebastian, Kathy Gordon as Olivia and Dallas Tolentino as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Photo by Koko Lanham

Alex Mills as Sebastian, Kathy Gordon as Olivia and Dallas Tolentino as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Photo by Koko Lanham

Scene One opens with two white-faced clowns in their satins arguing in mime over the Twelfth Night script.  The lead clown, a sort of John Huston/Orson Welles mashup, is the director of this film-within-a-play who cuts the action with his clapperboard.  Along with his comic cohort they monitor the performers, while seeming to capture the action on film.

And what action it is.  Jazz Age flappers cavort with drunken Casanovas in zoot suits and, as per Shakespeare’s best follies, the characters’ intentions get pretty well muddled up.  Subtle references translate into major devices as in a complex number in which the dancers become entrapped in an unspooling reel of film.  The use of the large scrim to separate the scenes is clever, but when it’s used to show occasional quotes from the play, projected in the style of the silent film era as intertitles, the words often become obstructed by the actors and props and ultimately serves only as a distraction.

Philip Fletcher as Orsino and Irina Tsikurishvili as Viola. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Philip Fletcher as Orsino and Irina Tsikurishvili as Viola. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Assistant Director/Music Director Irakli Kavsadze has selected some astonishingly varied pieces to accompany the dancers.  I recognized “Santa Lucia”, “Yes, Sir! That’s My Baby!”, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing)” and even the “Mexican Hat Dance” tossed in among jazz era tunes, classical music, opera, and an original score by award-winning Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze.

Set Designer Phil Charlwood and Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills have meticulously channeled the era placing Viola (Irina Tsikurishvili), Orsino (Phillip Fletcher), Malvolio (Irakli Kavsadze), Olivia (Kathy Gordon), Feste (Ben Cunis), Sebastian (Alex Mills), Sir Toby Belch (Hector Reynoso), Fabian (Vato Tsikurishvili), Maria (Irina Kavsadze), and Sir Andrew Aquecheek (Dallas Tolentino) into this stylishly romantic farce.  The cast is beyond marvelous – – utterly in synch and balance.  You’ll see no scene-stealers here, though Fletcher’s Orsino is perhaps the most adorably absurd of the Lotharios.

Costume Designer Kendra Rai punctuates the theme using a black, white and silver palette to convey the dazzling period.

Highly recommended.

Through February 16th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.