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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.

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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.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray at Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
September 29, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times

Joseph Carlson as Lord Henry and Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Joseph Carlson as Lord Henry and Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray. Photo by Koko Lanham

If I told you Synetic Theater was producing one of its much-lauded plays from their Silent Shakespeare series, you might have an inkling as to what to wrap your brain around. You’d also have to wait until early next year when they reprise two of those plays – - their original production of Hamlet…The Rest is Silence and their latest interpretation of Twelfth Night. In the same vein if I were to describe a play as comedic or compellingly poignant, then too, you might have a notion of what sort of an evening to expect. But Director Paata Tsikurishvili wishes to disabuse his audience of either complacency or expectation, which is exactly how he likes it.

As in the book by Oscar Wilde, Dorian is a man obsessed with youth and beauty – - a supreme narcissist who uses a portrait of himself by his artist friend Basil to take on the aging process while he remains young and virile. When Dorian meets the diabolical Lord Henry, whose affection for him seems boundless, his sense of morality eludes him and he descends into a life of debauchery. “There’s only one way to get rid of temptation, and that is to give in to it,” Lord Henry urges, in one of his many instructions to Dorian.

In Synetic’s version the painting itself becomes a living interactive character, first luring and later haunting, the murderous Dorian as he rages against evil and death. Witticisms from Wilde are scattered throughout the dialogue and usually delivered by the appropriately snide and derogatory Lord Henry.

Kathy Gordon as Lady Carlisle and Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray. Photo by Koko Lanham

Kathy Gordon as Lady Carlisle and Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray. Photo by Koko Lanham

When Dorian and Henry go to the theater to see an actress Dorian has fallen for, they become part of an audience seated on benches facing us. Does art imitate life? Here it does, as we follow the hilarious reactions of the viewers to a bad piece of theater. It’s a clever concept that uses the method of “topsy-turvy”, a popular device of the period. Also harkening back to early stagecraft, Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills employs vaudeville-style footlights and spotlights of yellow and green, reminiscent of the absinthe fairy, to highlight the evil influence of Lord Henry.

Original music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze uses electronica to create an amorphous, any-century mood, while Set Designer Daniel Pinha brings the stage to the audience with the use of clear interlocking acrylic panels as a stage surround. In a hyper-kinetic sadomasochistic scene, using a giant hookah as the central prop, vinyl-clad dancers writhe and thrust (Miley Cyrus eat your little twerking heart out!) in a drug-induced frenzy inside a virtual den of iniquity. The panels screen the audience from flying spatters of day glow paint from the orgy contained within its walls.

It is the paradox of the strait-laced Victorian society in which Dorian and his friends cavort, and the dissolute underbelly of that society that present the perfect palette for the spectacular beauty of Synetic’s dancers and their sinuous movements.

Robert Bowen Smith as Basil, Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray and Joseph Carlson as Lord Henry. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Robert Bowen Smith as Basil, Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray and Joseph Carlson as Lord Henry. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Dallas Tolentino is a magnetic and intriguing Dorian Gray, a dandy seeking reformation and redemption without the necessary willpower. “We live in the native land of the hypocrite,” he remarks. Joseph Carlson lends a marvelously Faustian swagger to the soulless Lord Henry, a proper English gentleman in the business of corruption, while Philip Fletcher plays the “Portrait” with astonishing physical prowess and subtlety. The pure-of-heart Basil is elegantly played by Robert Bowen Smith, who gives the drama the requisite good-to-evil ratio.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, as seen by Dramaturg Nathan Weinberger, is an erotic, Freudian-fueled portrait of Victorian England literally laid bare – - a circus riot of id, ego and super ego dished up in an erotic maelstrom of physicality as only Synetic Theater, with its magnificent classically-trained Georgian dancers, can imagine.

Highly recommended. Suitable for adults only.

Through November 3rd 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.

Joe Carlson as Lord Henry, Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray, Robert Bowen Smith as Basil and the Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham

Joe Carlson as Lord Henry, Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray, Robert Bowen Smith as Basil and the Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham

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The Three Musketeers at Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
May 11, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

The Musketeers and D'Artagnan: Hector Reynoso as Porthos, Dallas Tolentino as D'Artagnan, Ben Cunis as Athos and Matthew Ward as Aramis. Photo credit Johnny Shryock

The Musketeers and D’Artagnan: Hector Reynoso as Porthos, Dallas Tolentino as D’Artagnan, Ben Cunis as Athos and Matthew Ward as Aramis. Photo credit Johnny Shryock

“It is supposed to be the most difficult task for a dancer to leap into a definite posture in such a way that there is not a second when he is grasping after the posture, but by the leap itself he stands fixed in that posture. Perhaps no dancer can do it — that is what this knight does. The knights of infinity are dancers and possess elevation. They make the movements upward, and fall down again; and this too is no mean pastime, nor ungraceful to behold.” – Soren Kierkegaard

Synetic’s dancers excel in perceived weightlessness and aerialistic suspension and in this production of The Three Musketeers their talent is well utilized.  Thankfully most of the play is good old-fashioned swashbuckling, fight-till-the-death duels and leaping tour-de-force dances performed with a viscerally physical athleticism for which the ensemble is best known.  It’s the script that gets in the way of the action.

Dallas Tolentino as D'Artagnan, Mitchell Grant as the Duke of Buckingham and Brittany O'Grady as Constance. Photo credit - Johnny Shryock

Dallas Tolentino as D’Artagnan, Mitchell Grant as the Duke of Buckingham and Brittany O’Grady as Constance. Photo credit – Johnny Shryock

Playwright brothers Ben and Peter Cunis, seem to have conceived the play to serve as backdrop to the fight scenes using the speaking parts as a vehicle to hang the piece together until the next dramatic swordplay.  And that’s a good thing since the dialogue is not nearly as riveting and the scene transitions are sometimes awkward.

In Alexandre Dumas’s classic you may recall D’Artagnan, the eager rube from Gascony, who endeavors to join the illustrious Musketeers, the King’s personal guard.  The “barn boy” as the men refer to him, is determined to prove his mettle and his love for Constance, the Queen’s handmaiden.  Within France’s Bastille, Athos, Porthos and Aramis serve a cuckolded child king, a beautiful queen and a Machiavellian cardinal.  Their unforgettable motto, “All for one and one for all!” becomes a battle cry for “I’ll meet you at dawn!” “I’ll take you out!” and “How dare you insult me or my King!”

A ball at the palace. Robert Bowen Smith as Louis XIII, Dan Istrate as Cardinal Richelieu, Brynn Tucker as Queen Anne and Ensemble. Photo credit - Johnny Shryock

A ball at the palace. Robert Bowen Smith as Louis XIII, Dan Istrate as Cardinal Richelieu, Brynn Tucker as Queen Anne and Ensemble. Photo credit – Johnny Shryock

Dallas Torentino stands out as the eminently likeable D’Artagnan, whose love for Constance, played enchantingly by Brittany O’Grady, is placed in peril when she defends her queen’s cheating heart.  Dance diva Irina Tsikurishvili as the treacherous Milady thrills in Act One in a pas de deux with Athos.  Later, amidst an ongoing duel, she performs a macabre tango with the evil Cardinal Richelieu.  Notable too are all three Musketeers – Hector Reynoso portraying Porthos as a short-tempered, speech-slurring buffoon; Ben Cunis rendering Aramis, the priest wannabe, as a handkerchief hoarding heartbreaker; and Matthew Ward as Athos the Musketeer with a dark past.  But it’s Robert Bowen Smith as the petulant, mincing King Louis XIII who sends it over the top.

Set to an olio of bal-musette, a dash of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, and a soupçon of exhilarating orchestral pieces, the play is a departure from Synetic’s Silent Shakespeare Series but keeps to the troupe’s same riveting dance-centric tradition. 

Through June 9th 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.

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Wet and Wild – A Mind Bending Tempest at Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
Feb 25, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times

Cast of The Tempest; photo by Johnny Shryock

Cast of The Tempest; photo by Johnny Shryock

There is only one way to grok Synetic’s ‘Silent Shakespeare’ productions and that is to give your self over, heart, mind and soul, to the fantasy unfolding upon the stage.  Because like a steamy love affair, Synetic’s style of theatre is a paean to passion with no holds barred.  It’s total surrender without a net.  There is neither map nor compass, nor sheet music nor gyroscope, to guide you – even for The Tempest, a tale you thought you knew.  But in the time it takes one thunderous lightning bolt to reach earth, Synetic has entered your brain space and there is no turning back.

The play opens to a breathtaking set designed by Anastasia Rurikov Simes.  The entire stage is an island of 2,500 gallons of six-inch deep water.  As Artistic Director, Paata Tsikurishvili, announced on opening night, “This set is extremely dangerous and extremely difficult to perform on,” further evidence that Synetic’s alternate universe, filled to overflowing with technological wizardry, is a perilous experiment.  In 2010 Synetic employed this same technique in its production of King Arthur and people have been raving about it ever since.

We enter this watery world with the appearance of Prospero (Phillip Fletcher) cutting an elegant swath through the mist – the backdrop lit by the swirling  amorphous shapes of a ferocious storm and draped with diaphanous torn sails of a ship run aground.  Ocean waves crash cacophonously against the island’s cliffs and eerie electronic music swells in the distance.  A piano sits off to the side, its keyboard a waterfall under which Caliban retreats.  A light box held by Prospero to reference his precious books, pulses in shades of red and pink.

Soon the two meet and lock in a ferocious battle as sprays of water spew across the stage and onto the first three rows known as the “splash zone”.  No worries.  Courtesy ponchos are graciously provided.

Ryan Tumulty as Alonso and Philip Fletcher as Prospero; Irina Kavsadze as Miranda and Scott Brown as Ferdinand (in background) photo by Johnny Shryock

Ryan Tumulty as Alonso and Philip Fletcher as Prospero; Irina Kavsadze as Miranda and Scott Brown as Ferdinand (in background) photo by Johnny Shryock

Dan Istrate, one of the leading luminaries of Russian theatre, guest stars in his role as the pop-locking Ariel, clad in an anime-inspired costume deserving of the Silver Surfer, and designed by, yes, Simes again, who does triple duty with set, costumes and properties.  Irakli Kavadze is outstanding as Stephano, the drunken captain, as are the sensuous sylph-like Irina Kavsadze as Miranda, and Vato Tsikurishvili as the brutish Caliban.

An overall sense of magic and mysticism pervades every riveting aspect of this production where dizzying acrobatics, flips, somersaults and ballet combine with the elements of water, sound and light to give the audience an electrifying rendition of Shakespeare without words, an unparalleled near-psychedelic experience, dotted with Gangnam style, Latin salsa and waltz, including a synchronized nod to Busby Berkeley.

Highly recommended.

Through March 24th 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.

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