Holiday Happenings

Jordan Wright
December 1, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Synetic Theater ~ MetroStage ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria ~ ICE! at National Harbor ~ Christmas at Mount Vernon ~ Signature Theatre ~ Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia 

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Hansel and Gretel at Synetic Theater During the bustle of holiday crowds, Gretel tries to keep her brother, Hansel, out of trouble while their babysitter leaves Gretel to fend for them both. As Hansel embarks on his own wonder-filled exploration of his everyday surroundings, he and his sister fall into a magical realm that takes them far away from home. In this wordless production, the well-beloved Grimm fairy tale embraces the fantastical through the eyes of those who see the world through a different lens.  Directed and choreographed by Elena Velasco and Tori Bertocci.  Through December 23rd at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets visit www.synetictheater.org.

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

The Old Bull & Bush at MetroStageOriginally staged in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage writer, director, and actor Catherine Flye will be transferring her 9-person troupe to a circa 1912 replica of the famed Hampstead, England pub to jolly up your holidays with food, 35 songs, jokes, dance, a sing-along and an abbreviated reenactment of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  With Christmas crackers, British beers and sausage rolls for purchase, the classic British music hall entertainment runs through December 24th at 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

A Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – In a fresh interpretation by director Eleanor Tapscott, enjoy a return of the Christmas classic by Charles Dickens. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Victorian humbug, travels with diaphanous ghostly guides (beautifully choreographed by Ukranian Victoria Blum) through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays.  Complete with special effects, Victorian carols and Tiny Tim. Through December 16th at 600 Wolfe Street.  For tickets call 703.683.0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer atICE!” at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center – A 9-degree winter wonderland carved from over two million pounds of ice, a Christmas Village, merry-go-round, Glacier Glide ice skating rink, “JOY” – an eye-popping, Broadway-style holiday musical show, nightly snowfalls and dancing fountains at this first-class holiday destination.  Additional events are a Mistletoe Mixology class, Build-A Bear Workshop, photos with Santa, Cookies with Mrs. Claus and so much more. Through January 1st at 201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745.  For tickets and event times visit www.GaylordNationaltickets.com.

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Christmas at Mount Vernon Tour George and Martha Washington’s mansion by candlelight and make merry with 18th century dancing, fireside refreshments and caroling.  Meet Aladdin the Camel, watch holiday fireworks on December 15th and 16th, hear period music, experience a military encampment and more.  For tickets and event times visit www.MountVernon.org.

Holiday Follies at Signature Theatre – Starring jazz singer Ines Nassara, David Rowen (Signature’s Diner) and Katie Mariko Murray (Signature’s West Side Story) singing classic holiday songs.  Through December 16th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets visit www.SigTheatre.org.

The Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia in collaboration with the Office of the Arts presents a “Friday Evening Chamber Concert Series”.  The next concert “A Brass Christmas” is scheduled for Friday, December 15th at the Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron St.  For online tickets visit http://bit.ly/2vSKXRd.  Tickets are also available at the door.

The Adventures of Peter Pan ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
October 24, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Kathy Gordon as Wendy Darling and Alex Mills as Peter Pan Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Kathy Gordon as Wendy Darling and Alex Mills as Peter Pan ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Despite current accepted psychology ascribing ‘Peter Pan’ as a term for a man who refuses to accept adult responsibilities, we love this familiar tale of an English family of three children who fly off to a fantasy world where Peter and the fairy princess Tinkerbell reside in Neverland – a place of rip-roaring adventure populated by dastardly pirates, beautiful mermaids and motherless boys.  Veteran of numerous Synetic productions, the chameleonic actor, Alex Mills, plays Peter to Ana Tsikurishvili’s lovable Tinkerbell. Ryan Sellers, who recently gave a formidable performance in Synetic’s The Mark of Cain plays Hook with panache satirizing Trump when he’s threatening the boys.  Zana Gankhuyag is Peter’s mute Shadow – a fully developed role that shows off Gankhuyag’s incredible physicality.

Director Paata Tsikurishvili conceives Peter as a symbol for man’s desire to stave off aging.  As he points out in the Playbill, “Everyone from the characters in Greek mythology to the Knights of the Round Table to Indiana Jones – they have all sought the kind of immortality which Peter Pan so effortlessly and carelessly displays and takes for granted in his playful rejection of the real world.”  Echoing that theory, the play opens with a dark scene in the graveyard where Peter mourns the death of his sister.  Thankfully, we needn’t dwell on a deeper meaning to revel this swashbuckling tale of an adventurous lad and his followers.

Ryan Sellers (Captain Hook), Tori Bertocci (Starkey), Nathan Weinberger (Smee - top right) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Ryan Sellers (Captain Hook), Tori Bertocci (Starkey), Nathan Weinberger (Smee – top right) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

When Peter takes the Darling children the island of Neverland, Wendy (Kathy Gordon) becomes mother to Peter’s crew of Lost Boys who ride unicycles animal heads.  Her brothers, Michael (Scott Whalen) and John (Thomas Beheler), join the motley group in their fight against the evil Captain Hook and his band of ne’er-do-wells.  Nathan Weinberger plays Smee with a comically distended belly wrapped in stripes.  Smee’s explanation for Peter’s eternal youth, “a healthy diet and yoga.” Peter’s explanation for his youthfulness, “Worrying takes the fun out of everything!”  Sage advice.

Kathy Gordon as Wendy Darling and Ryan Sellers as Captain Hook ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Kathy Gordon as Wendy Darling and Ryan Sellers as Captain Hook ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

As you’d expect Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili gives the troupe plenty to work with plunging us headlong into a fantasy world filled with high-flying acrobatics and crackling good swordfights masterfully co-choreographed by Vato Tsikurishvili.  (Yes, it’s a family affair.)  She aims to please with a rousing, River Dance style Irish reel to celebrate Wendy’s arrival, another from the Roaring 20’s and a dance for the pirate’s duel with Peter and his Shadow.

Fabulous costumes, especially Tinkerbell’s multi-colored LED lit fairy frock including glittery swimsuits on androgynous mermaids, by Kendra Rai.  Colorful dialogue from Captain Hook’s smarmy crew will have your kids talking like a pirate is by the play’s adaptor, Ed Monk.  My 8-year old seat neighbor was blown away by the spectacular swordplay.

Lost Kids Dancing (from left to right) Thomas Beheler (John Darling), Scott Whalen (Michael Darling), Nate Shelton (Nibs), Anna Lynch (Slightly) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Lost Kids Dancing (from left to right) Thomas Beheler (John Darling), Scott Whalen (Michael Darling), Nate Shelton (Nibs), Anna Lynch (Slightly) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Highly recommended for all ages.

Through November 19th 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 Mark of Cain ~ Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
July 21, 2017 

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Philip Fletcher (God) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Philip Fletcher (God) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

In his apocalyptic vision of the end of the world Georgian-born Director and Adaptor Paata Tsikurishvili offers up a slo-mo intro to the birth of Evil.  In it he provides God (Philip Fletcher) with a large mobile Modernist statue with serpentine arms from whence to rule his kingdom.  This Tree of Knowledge representation is where Adam (Scott Brown) and Eve (Tori Bertocci) meet their fate in the Garden of Eden.

Synetic has long been a theatrical vehicle for the interpretation of world politics and has consistently sought out ways to parallel their productions to the ills of modern society.  Describing his inspiration for The Mark of Cain with Machiavelli’s immortal words, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We see this popping up everywhere,” he adds suggestively.  Tsikurishvili’s latest fantasy after a five-year dry spell, reads like a graphic novel of the world’s ills.

In committing their original sin, the doomed couple bite into the shiny red apple symbolized by a balloon in a cage.  We see God’s tears begin to fall from white balloon “eyes” encased in a pyramid – like the eyes on the U. S. dollar – and backlit by flashlights.  There will be many more balloon symbols indicating sadness, death and destruction.  It’s an awkward device at best, but you’ll get the drift.

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Dallas Tolentino (Abel) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Dallas Tolentino (Abel) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Our jeans-clad lovers soon encounter the Dark Angel (Kathy Gordon) and her minions before running off to give birth to their twins, Cain (Ryan Sellers) and Abel (Dallas Tolentino).  This colorless Garden of Eden may augur the evils to come, but it seems an unnecessarily grim setting for paradise.  Abel is the sensitive one of the two, representing Culture and the Arts – playing stringed instruments woven from strips of white fabric.  Cain is the penultimate destroyer, torturing the dancers that frolic to Abel’s music.  More balloon eyes “cry” and a death is symbolized by the popping of a red balloon filled with red dust.  We will come to see this again and again as it depicts Death symbolized by black balloons.  After Cain kills off his entire family and appears to briefly mourn their loss, the use of dancers carrying helium filled black balloons is yet again employed while God marks Cain for life with red powder, a device used to symbolize blood, anger and/or defeat.

Kathy Gordon (Dark Angel), Ryan Sellers (Cain) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Kathy Gordon (Dark Angel), Ryan Sellers (Cain) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

When the Dark Angel again returns she anoints Cain with a wreath of golden laurel leaves.  As his conquests mount ever more elaborate “crowns” serve to describe the level of power that Cain has achieved.  In a banquet scene in which all the guests wear crowns, they kill each other off in a dramatic fight scene.  Some inexplicably return to march to Music Director Irakli Kavsadze’s choice of Ravel’s “Bolero” as Cain becomes power mad and the wars increasingly militaristic.  The music is perfectly timed to mirror the staccato sounds of machine guns.  At this point we have transitioned into modern day warfare and thankfully there are no balloons to distract from this electrifying scene.

Tori Bertocci (Ensemble), Ryan Sellers (Cain), Megan Khaziran (Ensemble) Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Tori Bertocci (Ensemble), Ryan Sellers (Cain), Megan Khaziran (Ensemble) Photographer: Johnny Shryock

I don’t want to be the spoiler, but let’s just say Cain appears as Trump in elongated red tie and aviator sunglasses spewing executive orders and looking noticeably smug.  You don’t want to know what miseries he has in mind to wreak upon the world at large.  As with Synetic’s famous “Silent Shakespeare” series, this play is wordless which is hardly noticeable for the wealth of dance expression choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili, the fierce battle scenes by Vato Tsikurishvili, and the use of electronica composed by Konstantine Lortkipanidze.  Trust me.  You’ll get the picture.

Through August 13th 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 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.