A Tale of Two Cities – Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
May 22, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Alex Mills as Jerry and Vato Tsikurishvili as Dorian. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Alex Mills as Jerry and Vato Tsikurishvili as Dorian. Photo by Koko Lanham.

An eclectic jumble of flea market collectibles informs Luciana Stecconi’s clever set for Jerry’s one-room flat, in what reads as New York’s East Village.  Vintage Ronald Coleman movie posters adorn the walls and point to the inspiration for playwright Everett Quinton’s steroidal version of A Tale of Two Cities.  Jerry (Alex Mills), stage name Betty May, is an aspiring drag queen.  But don’t let that throw you off, we’re just scratching the surface.  He’s also a literate, thoughtful kid whose artistic proclivities fall a tad outside the realm of everyday culture.

As he prepares to premiere his long-awaited drag debut he discovers a baby abandoned on his doorstep, “What in the gay hell?” he shrieks.  Jerry is ill prepared to deal with a child, and especially not the oddly precocious Baby Dorian (Vato Tsikurishvili) who has adult sensibilities and puerile needs.

Somehow the two communicate, Jerry speaks to him as a peer, while Dorian makes hilariously expressive baby responses also readable to the audience.  This crazy buy-in is the magical moment when both Jerry (and the audience) travel down the rabbit hole together in an absurdist fantasy anchored by a tender story of hope and determination.  After all, Dorian, who has the head of a grownup with the body of a toddler, is just the beginning of your compact with the playwright.

Alex Mills as Jerry. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Alex Mills as Jerry. Photo by Koko Lanham.

To keep his date at the theatre, Jerry strikes a deal with Dorian to nap while he goes out.  But Dorian, oddly advanced far beyond his binky-sucking years, demands a bedtime story.  After some negotiation – – The Three Bears and Little Red Riding Hood are nixed by Dorian as being too scary – – Jerry settles on “A Tale of Two Cities”, the telling of which requires him to assume each character’s role from Dickens’s classic story.  Be sure to brush up on the story ahead of time.  The Playbill affords no descriptions of the book’s characters, and it can get somewhat complicated if you’re trying to keep track of who’s who.

Through countless back-and-forth costume changes (wigs, hats and costumes worthy of a diva’s wardrobe), dozens of props are imaginatively employed – – an old school bell serves to sound the Bastille’s call to arms.

Alex Mills as his character Jerry's Drag persona, Betty-May. Photo by Koko Lanham

Alex Mills as his character Jerry’s Drag persona, Betty-May. Photo by Koko Lanham

Mills, who in a herculean effort to keep Dorian (and us!) amused, never leaves the set, keeping the dialogue and quick changes at warp speed.  N. B. Madame LaFarge didn’t knit as fast as this!

In this ultra demanding topsy-turvy role, Mills gives us the performance of a lifetime.  His various characters are sharply executed and his brisk segues, physicality, and change of accents are astounding.  The words ‘bravery’ and ‘fabulous’ come to mind.  Do not leave your seat until the denouément.  I promise it will blow your mind.  Of course, that’s exactly why we love Synetic!

Highly recommended.

Through June 21st at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 866 811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Much Ado About Nothing Vegas Style – Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
February 17, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Hot Diggity Dog Ziggity Boom!  In Synetic Theater’s jived up version of Much Ado About Nothing Las Vegas’s flamboyant landscape of feathered and sequined showgirls becomes the backdrop for Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s reinvention of the beloved comedy and the next installment in the troupe’s “Silent Shakespeare” series.  In his interpretation Beatrice (Irina Tsikurishvili) is a lovelorn lounge singer and Benedick (Ben Cunis) her castoff lover who are reunited in her Uncle Leonato’s (Peter Pereyra) casino.  Much to each other’s dismay.

Benedick has joined Don Pedro’s (Philip Fletcher) gang the ‘Syneticons’ and blown into town on their boss motorcycles – – gleaming single-wheel choppers designed by Props Master Kasey Hendricks and Technical Director Phil Charwood.  Soon gang member Claudio (Scott Brown) falls hard for Don Pedro’s daughter Hero (Emily Whitworth) and that’s when the jealousies, betrayals and backstabbing ruses begin.

Scott Brown as Claudio and Emily Whitworth as Hero. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Scott Brown as Claudio and Emily Whitworth as Hero. Photo by Koko Lanham.

In this Grease meets West Side Story meets Car 54 Where Are You? fantasy the comic relief is often provided by a hilarious trio of cops led by the Chief of Police, Dogberry, purposely overplayed by Vato Tsikurishvili. The cut-ups give chase to the lawless gang in slapstick routines worthy of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy.  Of particular note is Zana Gankhuyag who plays Asian cop, Verges.

Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili pulls out all the stops, letting the dancing dictate the period.  In a departure from the dark side dynamic that infuses many of Synetic’s productions, the cast’s mood and infectious enthusiasm is flat-out joyful.  Girls jitterbug in poodle skirts with James Dean bikers clad in leather and tight jeans while the super-fly theme from Peter Gunn takes it into overdrive.

Ben Cunis as Benedick. Irina Tsikurishvili as Beatrice. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Ben Cunis as Benedick. Irina Tsikurishvili as Beatrice. Photo by Koko Lanham.

It’s a doo-wop mash-up of oldies from back in the day as Sound Editor and Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze and Music Director Irakli Kavsadze conspire to bring back Chubby Checker with ‘The Twist’, Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover” and the era of “Beach Blanket Bingo”.  Actually a few decades overlap here, but who cares, it’s an idealized backdrop for teenage angst and puppy love.  So even if the Chippendales didn’t launch their striptease act till 1979, we don’t mind these hot male dancers doing a bit of bump-and-grind along with a game of strip poker.  And though Leonato reminds us a bit of Al Pacino in the 1980’s Scarface and the preacher is a Black Elvis (Wait! Was that James Brown?), it’s fun to play along.

Photo by Koko Lanham.

Photo by Koko Lanham.

As expected there is breathtaking dancing and gravity-defying acrobatics from the classically trained Georgian troupe.  And although it gets off to a bit of a slow start, after a few minutes in it explodes in full-throttle Synetic-styled mania fueled by dancers that look as if they’ve been just waiting to cut loose and show their cool daddy-o side.

Dig it!  It’s like crazy, man, crazy!

Through March 22nd at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 866 811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

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.