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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.

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