The Hunchback of Notre Dame ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
May 14, 2017

Philip Fletcher as Frollo (center), with Gargoyle Ensemble Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Philip Fletcher as Frollo (center), with Gargoyle Ensemble Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

The first five minutes of Synetic’s latest production is so haunting you may think you’re having an out-of-body experience.  It comes at you slowly, unwinding like a cobra from a basket.  It’s a visceral sensation from an avant-garde theatre troupe that knows how to jolt the senses and play with the mind.  It starts with the monophonic sounds of Gregorian chants and the tolling of church bells scented with the heavily-perfumed aroma of a smoking incense-burning censer that plunges you into the cosmic world of religious rituals.  It is at this moment that we first see Frollo backlit by a giant blue cross.  He removes his cassock and mask.  We have just come face to face with the dark forces of the church.  Did I flash on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code?  In a New York minute.

Irina Kavsadze as Esmeralda - Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Irina Kavsadze as Esmeralda – Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Symbols of faith, religion and power are stunningly shattered in Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s highly inventive interpretation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo’s brilliant classic tale.  It tells a story of the gypsy girl Esmeralda (the lithe and emotive Irina Kavsadze) worshipped by hunchbacked bell ringer Quasimodo (Vato Tsikurishvili in one of his finest performances), his patron Frollo (the chameleonic Philip Fletcher), the naïve musician Gringoire (Robert Bowen Smith) and Esmeralda’s paramour Phoebus (Zana Gankhuyag).  In one of Synetic’s most exciting productions to date Tsikurishvili places the emphasis on the dichotomy between the sanctity of the church and the reality of the human condition, and like the troupe’s highly regarded “Silent Shakespeare” series of plays, this production is done without words.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Quasimodo - Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Vato Tsikurishvili as Quasimodo – Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Set in 15th century Paris the hypocritically pious Frollo is depicted as a high priest rather than the government minister in the original tale.  As in the original, he is conflicted by his religious beliefs and the desires of the flesh.  Scenic Designer Anastasia Rurikov Simes’ set consists of an enormous spiked silver wall constructed with multiple levels.  Within the wall writhing, tormenting gargoyles perch atop the stage serving as judge and witness to those who offend the church.  Simes’ design progressively rotates to reveal a massive glowing cross, Esmeralda’s fiery funeral pyre, a hangman’s platform and ultimately the fixture for Frollo’s self-flagellation and self-crucifixion.

Tori Bertocci (Gypsy/Ensemble) being thrown by Vato Tsikurishvili (Quasimodo) - Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Tori Bertocci (Gypsy/Ensemble) being thrown by Vato Tsikurishvili (Quasimodo) – Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Dramaturg Nathan Weinberger focuses predominantly on the story’s emotional elements of jealousy, lust, betrayal, domination and retribution.  And as Hugo warned his readers, it challenges the church’s abuse of power through its insistence on blind faith and strict adherence to canonical law.

As is Synetic’s signature, a unique fusion of music, sound effects and lighting play a large part in heightening the drama.  Music Director Irakli Kavsadze’s mix of classical music interwoven with electronica and tango, Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s original music and Brian Allard’s suggestively lurid lighting combine with Erik Teague’s highly inventive costumes and wide array of intricately designed masks.

Highly recommended.

Through June 11th 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.

The Taming of the Shrew ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
February 21, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Ryan Sellers as Petruchio and Irina Tsikurishvili as Katherina. Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Ryan Sellers as Petruchio and Irina Tsikurishvili as Katherina. Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Some of Synetic’s “Silent Shakespeare” series productions are of the more classical variety.  Knights in leather armor and ladies in diaphanous gowns, kings with proper crowns and gallant, swaggering lads who rescue damsels.  That works for those who like their Shakespeare neat and undiluted.  For my money, the crazier, the more outlandish and the sexier, the more I’m going to love it.  Directed by Irina Tsikurishvili, one of the founding members of the Georgian troupe together with her husband and Artistic Director, Paata Tsikurishvili, this new version of The Taming of the Shrew is decidedly over the top outrageous.  We need this. A straight 90 minutes of madcap silliness strung together by a familiar plot and performed by a cast of inspired dancers.  Sign me up.

In a stunning Magritte-like formality, fellow mourners gather.  Clad in black Victorian garb with umbrellas held aloft, they grieve the demise of fashion designer Baptista’s wife.  The explosive sounds of thunder and lightning frame their little scene.  As they depart, several of the gentlemen lovingly kiss the hand of Katherina (Irina Tsikurishvili).  One brazen swain grabs her, bends her backwards and plants one on her lips.  She is the most sought after, and unattainable of all – a girl on fire garnering headlines in the scandal sheets for her uncontrollable behavior.  Her sister, Bianca (Nutsa Tediashvili), a flirty starlet, glamorously clad in electric yellow mini dress, is no match for her sister’s intensity.  As for her paramour, Lucentio (Justin J. Bell) he must woo Bianca on the QT, and does it as a woman in a tiny dress and Louise Brooks bob as her music teacher.  It’s outlandish.  Beyond the pale.  Such fun!

Irina Tsikurishvili as Katherina and Ryan Sellers as Petruchio Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Irina Tsikurishvili as Katherina and Ryan Sellers as Petruchio Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

The story is set in PADUAWOOD, the iconic Hollywood sign has been replaced.  Here the men are flashy hipsters in pegged trousers, the women fiercely trendy and the paparazzi ubiquitous.  It’s all about the nightlife, hooking up at the club and vogueing for the camera. Fashion shows are where they strut their stuff and here we are treated to an ersatz Victoria Secret runway scene, as elaborate as anything from Ziegfeld’s follies, with models in de rigeur feathery angel wings and erotic lingerie.  Additional suitors Tranio (Scott S. Turner), Hortensio (Stephen Russell Murray), Gremio (Zana Gankhuyag) and Grumio (Alex Mills) swarm around the ladies, alternately posing and roughhousing, eager to impress their targets.

Petrucchio, selected by Katherina’s father to pursue her in marriage, is a painter bereft of inspiration.  He is portrayed by the sensational dancer Ryan Sellers, whose acrobatic leaps are Baryshnikovian and whose physical attributes are swoon-worthy.  His fights with Katherina are as deliciously chaotic as the steamy love scenes.  Tsikurishvili mirrors his enmity and passion exquisitely.  This may be one of her greatest roles – one in which she shows her magnificent range as a both a comic actor and powerhouse performer.

Full cast (minus Irakli Kavsadze as Baptiste and Chris Galindo as Ensemble). Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Full cast (minus Irakli Kavsadze as Baptiste and Chris Galindo as Ensemble). Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Zana Gankhuyag has choreographed this unique and visually sensuous production, showing off this talented cast to their fullest.  And credit Anastasia Rurikova Simes for the countless, elaborate, crazy costumes that never fail to amuse, most inexplicably a banquet wherein all the guests save Katherina wear massive chicken heads and a girl in skimpy black patent leather biker gear lures Petrucchio from atop a motorcycle.  A lobster codpiece makes an appearance.  Don’t ask.  Just go.

Highly recommended.  (And for those of you who have never been to a Synetic Theater production, they have garnered a total of 93 Helen Hayes Award nominations and 27 Awards for directing, choreography, acting, costume design and best play.)

Through March 19th 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.

Alice in Wonderland – Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
October 5, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

 

Kathy Gordon as Alice, Vato Tsikurishvili as Caterpillar. Photo by Johnny Shryock

Kathy Gordon as Alice, Vato Tsikurishvili as Caterpillar. Photo by Johnny Shryock

Alice is very, very, very unhappy.  She has had to surrender her favorite playthings to a recently hired cruel-hearted governess, Ms. Prickett (Renata Veberyte Loman, later seen in the role of the Queen), who eats her tarts, insists she recite poetry and insults her intelligence.  In this dark telling, and merging, of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Director Paata Tsikurishvili takes us down the rabbit hole to a fantasy world unlike any other.  After all, this is Synetic Theater.  Did you expect a fairy tale?  Lloyd Rose’s script adaption, divided into twelve parts, keeps the madcap charm yet affords little room for niceties.

Renata Veberyte Loman as Queen of Hearts, Justin J. Bell as King with Ensemble. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Renata Veberyte Loman as Queen of Hearts, Justin J. Bell as King with Ensemble. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

This is an upside down world this growing-up thing – fraught with danger, nonsensical creatures and twisted logic – and Alice (Kathy Gordon) intends to sort it all out and in the process teach Wonderland’s inhabitants a few lessons in commonsense.  Setting out she finds her toys have morphed into the Cheshire Cat (Alex Mills) and the White Rabbit (Tori Bertocci) who lead her into an evermore phantasmagorical dimension filled with shrouded creatures of the night who feed her cakes to change her size in order to enter a tiny portal to the realm of the Queen of Hearts.

Alex Mills as Cheshire Cat, Kathy Gordon as Alice, Tori Bertocci as White Rabbit. Photo by Johnny Shryock

Alex Mills as Cheshire Cat, Kathy Gordon as Alice, Tori Bertocci as White Rabbit. Photo by Johnny Shryock

Eventually Alice arrives at the tea party where she meets up with the Mad Hatter (Dallas Tolentino), Doormouse (Zana Gankhuyag, who graces us later as the Lobster) and the March Hare (Justin J. Bell, who does double-duty as King).  “It’s always tea time,” they riddle her pop-locking to electronika and calliope in this carnival-like atmosphere.

Dallas Tolentino as Mad Hatter, Kathy Gordon as Alice, Justin J. Bell as March Hare. Photo by Johnny Shryock

Dallas Tolentino as Mad Hatter, Kathy Gordon as Alice, Justin J. Bell as March Hare. Photo by Johnny Shryock

Costume Designer Kendra Rai does not disappoint.  Well known to Synetic fans and the Helen Hayes Awards committee (who bestowed upon her the 2015 Outstanding Costume Design Award for her work on last season’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, thus besting herself for her other two noms for Beauty and the Beast and Twelfth Night), she has outdone herself with eye-popping creations.

Zana Gankhuyag as Doormouse, Alex Mills as Cheshire Cat, Dallas Tolentino as Mad Hatter, Justin J. Bell as March Hare. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Zana Gankhuyag as Doormouse, Alex Mills as Cheshire Cat, Dallas Tolentino as Mad Hatter, Justin J. Bell as March Hare. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

The Queen’s Guard, as you’ll recall, are playing cards that dash about looking for heads to chop off, as per Her Majesty’s whims.  But it’s Tweedle Dee (Augustin Beall) and Tweedle Dum (Thomas Beheler) as punk rockers that nearly steal the show reciting the Jabberwocky, “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogroves, And the mome raths outgrabe,” finishing with a high-five.  I’ll admit it is one of my favorite bits of nonsense poetry and I was totally captivated by this odd duo in leather jackets and spiky mohawks reciting Carroll’s famous 19th century verse.

Dallas Tolentino as Mad Hatter. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Dallas Tolentino as Mad Hatter. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Humpty Dumpty (Vato Tsikurishvili) makes a brief appearance before his precipitous fall, confounding Alice with the pronouncement, “When I use a word it means what I choose it to be.  You can’t let words have the last word.”  But it’s the Queen’s appearance at the garden party, replete with towering red pompadour and black and white patent leather dress plumped up with paniers, that truly blows our minds.  “Off with their heads!” she familiarly commands as she neatly tucks a croquet ball into a wicket.

Alex Mills as Cheshire Cat. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Alex Mills as Cheshire Cat. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Resident Choreographer, Irina Tsikurishvili, works her magic, filling the stage with phenomenal dancers, most especially Mills who in one scene as the Cheshire Cat toying with a mouse, undulates, contorts and twists his lithe body into unimaginable feline positions, bending in half to lick his leg and slinking on to one of Scenic Designer Daniel Pinha’s giant arcing scaffolds to avoid discovery.

Highly recommended.

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