Synetic’s The Tell-Tale Heart is Absolutely, Positively, Freakin’ Brilliant!

Synetic’s The Tell-Tale Heart is Absolutely, Positively, Freakin’ Brilliant!

The Tell-Tale Heart
Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
October 9, 2023
Special to The Zebra 

Alex Mills as Edgar with the Synetic Ensemble. (Photo/Jorge Amaya)

Yes, I know you read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart in high school, but it’s certain you’ve never seen it come to life through the eyes of Synetic’s extraordinary creative team of Resident Dramaturg and Adaptor Nathan Weinberger, Synetic’s Co-Founder and Director Paata Tsikurishvili, Co-Founder and Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili, Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze, Scenic Designer Daniel Pinha and veteran Costume Designer Erik Teague. I mention the team up front because I try mightily to imagine them sitting around a table tossing ideas around, coming up with a mind-bendingly original interpretation of this classic horror story, then unifying their wildly experimental approach, and against all odds, producing it. I’d like to be a fly on their wall because I don’t know how they do it.

For those of you who have never experienced a Synetic production, I promise you it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Expect highly athletic dancers trained in both classical ballet and modern interpretive dance coupled with master class-level mime and pugilistic skills. In this monumentally macabre version of The Tell-Tale Heart you will witness all of these skills underpinned by a dark, twisted, spooky and mercilessly disturbing story – just in time for the haunting season. Hello, Halloween!

Irakli Kavsadze as the Old Man and Alex Mills as Edgar. (Photo/Jorge Amaya)

As Act One opens, two central characters command our attention – Edgar (Alex Mills) and Old Man (Irakli Kavsadze). Edgar is the caregiver for the old man who lives in a house filled with oddities and antiquities stacked in dozens of wooden boxes. The Old Man is speechless communicating through guttural grunts of anger and frustration. He is clearly non compos mentis spending his days in a wheelchair when not throwing objects willy-nilly and destroying everything within his reach. Edgar patiently cares for him trying his best to calm the old man’s fears. After a time, Edgar becomes gripped by fear and frustration – inhabited by the specter of six ravenous Vultures. When they encircle him and take control of his mind, he too descends into madness.

Here fantasy becomes horror as the Vultures mirror his attempts at escape transmogrifying their flesh-eating desires into Edgar’s very self. It is schadenfreude. We cannot help but feel both reviled and attracted as we sense the futility of his plight. The cacophony of the Vultures caws and the sound of the beating heart echo in the wordless silence.

Irakli Kavsadze as the Old Man, Alex Mills as Edgar, with the Synetic Ensemble. (Photo/Jorge Amaya)

With extraordinary physicality and precision, Mills’ keenly portrayed passion is felt throughout the theater. The audience is dead silent too – watching and waiting. As well, one cannot help but thrill over Kavsadze’s performance. His subtle and skillful talents are yet another master class in the art of mime.

In the end… oh! I’m not going to spoil it for you. See it. It’s absolutely brilliant!

The Vultures are played by Lev BelolipetskiKaitlin ShifflettTony AmanteJosh LucasZana Gankhuyag and Vato Tsikurishvili. Lighting Design by Brian S. Allard; Props Design by Claire Caverly and Fight Choreography by Vato Tsikurishvili.

Highly recommended. Absolutely brilliant!

Through November 5th at Synetic Theater, 1800 Bell Street, Arlington, VA at National Landing. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 824-8060 ext. 117 or visit

Signature Theatre’s King of the Yees is Acerbic, Witty, Fresh-as-a-Breeze and Sharp-as-a-Tack

Signature Theatre’s King of the Yees is Acerbic, Witty, Fresh-as-a-Breeze and Sharp-as-a-Tack

King of the Yees
Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
September 30, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Jacob Yeh (Erhu Player) and Ashley D. Nguyen (Lauren) (Photo by DJ Corey Photography)

In one of the most refreshing new productions by playwright Lauren Yee (Cambodian Rock Band), we are gifted with an insider’s view of Chinese American culture. It is very much her story. Set in San Francisco it tells of a young Yale-educated playwright penning a story of her father, Larry Yee (Grant Chang), a neighborhood activist and amateur genealogist determined to advance the family name. Larry’s connection to a 150-year-old Chinatown social club manifesting mystical powers proves instrumental in Lauren finding her roots. And though he is no relation to a local politician running for office, Leeland Yee (a reference to a real-life character), they share the same last name and Larry, believing in the strong ancestral culture of his elders, becomes Leeland’s exalted gofer and supporter.

Jacob Yeh (Sichuan Face Changer) and Ashley D. Nguyen (Lauren)  (Photo by DJ Corey Photography)

There is a strong connection to Larry’s respect for the ancients and his desire to convince his daughter, Lauren (Ashley D. Nguyen), that her destiny lies behind the club’s imposing red door. Between Lauren’s search for her own identity and Larry’s determination to prove his ancestral roots, lie some of the most hilarious characters ever created – some younger generation, others are elders who reflect past cultural norms – and ancestral bugaboos. That the playwright pokes fun at everyone proves the universality of her theme. Fortune cookies, twerking lion dancers, ancient rituals, a Chinese gangster (the real life “Shrimp Boy” Chow!) and an acupuncturist/herbalist make appearances shuttling Lauren headlong towards her goal of understanding her father and finding her cultural identity. No one is spared skewering in Yees’ cleverly representational imaginings.

References to Chinese immigrant heritage play nicely with flashback memories of mid-19th century San Francisco and Lauren’s father’s connection to the Yee Fung Toy Family Association which he is determined to keep afloat. Program notes tell us the association and its many chapters still exist throughout the United States.

Jacob Yeh (Erhu Player) and Ashley D. Nguyen (Lauren) in King of the Yees at Signature Theatre. (Photo by DJ Corey Photography)

King of the Yees is an eye-opening insight into Chinese American cultural assimilation and its subsequent generational struggles – the loss of identity and the keen awareness of rapidly gentrifying Chinese neighborhoods. The playwright employs magical realism and original humor to add to the wonderment of Lauren’s fraught journey to know her father, affectionately drawing each unique character to reveal their strengths and foibles. Her approach results in a super-fast pace and highly physical comedy executed perfectly by its super talented, very much in sync cast. This cleverly constructed play is acerbic, witty, fresh-as-a-breeze and sharp-as-a-tack, and I absolutely loved it. Ditto for the audience who roared in appreciation and wonderment.

Ashley D. Nguyen (Lauren), Sylvia Kwan (Actor 2), Grant Chang (Larry) and Jacob Yeh (Actor 1) (Photo by DJ Corey Photography)

With Jacob Yeh as Actor 1; Sylvia Kwan as Actor 2; Nicholas Yenson as Actor 3 and Fight Captain.

Directed by Jennifer Chang; Scenic Design by Tanya Orellana; Costume Design by Helen Q. Huang; Lighting Design by Minjoo Kim; Sound Design and Original Music by Matthew M. Nelson; Assistant Director Gregory Keng Strasser.

Highly recommended. One of the best comedies of the year!

Through October 22nd at Signature Theatre in Shirlington Village, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 820-9771 or visit

A Modernized Evita Comes to Harman Hall

A Modernized Evita Comes to Harman Hall

Shakespeare Theatre Company and American Repertory Theater
Jordan Wright
September 21, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Shereen Pimentel in EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

 When we mention the names Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber we have reached the stratospheric pantheon of theatre’s most beloved musical composer/writer teams. Their blockbuster Evita is known as the pinnacle of their collaborations with a score so beautiful and so deeply affecting.

In a co-production with Massachusett’s American Repertory Theater, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Simon Godwin presents the work of the show’s Director Sammi Cannold and includes the cast from the Boston production.

Omar Lopez-Cepero (center) and the cast of EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

Eva Perón was Argentina’s most storied heroines – despised, revered and adored. We are fascinated by her rise to power and are moved to wonder what is the allure of this woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps from abject poverty – from a life as a tango dancer deserted by a trail of lotharios? For many it is how she obtained the extraordinary power she wielded and how she used her husband’s position to get to the top. How did she fool an entire nation? In truth, it was by hook and by crook.

The show opens in 1952 at the funeral of Evita Perón. Considered the spiritual leader of the people of Argentina, she was a highly controversial figure – a First Lady who had risen from a life on the streets by her wits and beauty and a series of ever-more influential lovers. But her greatest success was marrying an ambitious soldier, Juan Perón (Caesar Samayoa). We hear this in the lyrics of Evita (Shereen Pimentel) and Juan’s duet, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You”. She wins him over and by the next number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, she and Juan have formed their indelible alliance – for better or for worse.

Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

As her protector, reality check and the story’s narrator, Che Guevara (Omar Lopez-Cepero), who later became one of the world’s most impactful revolutionaries, seeks to anchor Eva’s wild and self-absorbed lifestyle. Their duet “High Flying, Adored” is one of the most memorable numbers in the show and reflects the time when she is at the height of her popularity and public sanctification. In it he warns her, “Don’t look down. It’s a long way.”  But Eva ignores his advice, and her megalomania gets the best of her. When she appears in all her scintillating glory on the balcony of Casa Rosada, the grandiose presidential palace, he sarcastically remarks, “One has to admire the stage management.” And in one of the show’s most heartrending songs “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, we witness her narcissism as she cannily humbles herself to the adoring crowds.

There are no program notes from Director Cannold so we don’t really know her intention in this very modernized version taken broadly from the original Broadway production. Just know that it is very different.

Omar Lopez-Cepero (front), Shereen Pimentel (center) and the cast of EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

Mona Seyed-Bolorforosh conducts the magnificent 16-piece orchestra. How can you not swoon for the music? Costumes by designer Alejo Vietti are grey – soldiers, officers, street people and dancers. Only Evita wears white throughout. Lighting Designer Bradley King frames the entire stage with red neon lights adding five white neon arches and a ceiling covered with lines of bright red neon rods. The significance of all that neon escapes me. Another unusual twist is the set by Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood that is devised of long neon-lined risers reaching across from stage left to stage right. These slender risers are topped with what appears to be old-fashioned fluffy attic insulation and lit with battery operated candles. Again, I am puzzled. Is it meant to represent the dirty streets she came from? Who knows? Perhaps, it will have greater meaning to you.

Lastly, there was a distinct buzz throughout the audience as to the poor sound quality – bass notes seemed to disappear; high notes were screechy. Others around me were having the same reaction to the poor audio and they were talking about it. It was so confounding and in sharp contrast to the usual excellent acoustics at Harman Hall that, upon leaving the theater, I asked the sound board engineer if he could explain it. He told me ART had brought their own sound system for this production. One can only hope it will be corrected by the time you read this review.

Caesar Samayoa (DJ Corey Photography)

Magaldi, Gabriel Burrafato; Young Cadet/Ensemble, Eddie Gutiérrez; Child/Ensemble, Melissa Parra or Ariadne Rose; Mistress/Ensemble, Naomi Serrano.

Choreography by Emily Maltby & Valeria Solomonoff; Sound Design by Connor Wang.

Through October 15th at Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit

Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van – A Zany Spoof with 100 Laughs at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van – A Zany Spoof with 100 Laughs at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van
The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
September 12, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Patrick Gallagher, Teresa Preston, and John Paul Odie (Photo/Fred Lash)

In Mary Lynn Dobson’s comedy Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van we become witness to the antics of a zany theatre troupe at The Neighborhood Actors Summer Fun Repertory Theatre. Due to the limited space in the troupe’s playhouse, the company spends time backstage and in a parking lot where volunteer and resident aging hippie, Vondo (Paul Donahoe), who has a predilection for playing the intro to Iron Butterfly’s Smoke on the Water and lives out of his van with fellow techie and volunteer Jeannie.

As they prepare for their production of Hello Dolly led by Eric (Ian Wade), an artistic director with a knack for turning every musical into a murderous, sex-crazed horror show, things immediately start to go awry. “See beyond the words!” Eric tells the cast coming up with bizarre alternate realities for the plot. There’s hilarious conflict aplenty when Mike, the director, tries futilely to rein Eric in telling Meredith who’s playing Dolly Levy that, contrary to what Eric has told her, Dolly is most assuredly not meant to be portrayed as a pimp.

Ian Wade (Eric) and Ann Brodnax (Meredith) (Photo/Fred Lash)

Meanwhile chorus boy Daniel (well played by Joe Neff) is determined to suck up to Jeff, the theater’s producer, begging him to produce his silent play, “Mime: The Musical”. Some of the play’s funniest bits are Daniel racing around miming and tap dancing and driving them all crazy. Think Pee Wee Herman.

John Paul Odie and Joe Neff (Daniel) (Photo/Fred Lash)

This is the broadest sort of comedy with tons of sight gags, pratfalls, silly costumes and daffy shenanigans. Think Mel Brooks meets Monty Python while keeping all the balls in the air. There’s Meredith (Ann Brodnax) an over-the-hill diva who desperately wants the part of the ingenue in The Sound of Music. The ingenue, Robyn (Naomi Bertha), who is cast as Medea, in a dress fitted out with exploding entrails. And calm, cool and collected Harriet (Eleanore Tapscott), a counterpoint to the angsty Robyn, who gets miscast in everything yet has the sassiest comeback lines to put everyone in their proper place. Mike offers the best description of Scott (Patrick Gallagher), the Wardrobe Master, “He knows the difference between purple and aubergine.”

Kirk Lambert (Jeff) and Eleanore Tapscott  (Photo/Fred Lash)

Thanks to a wonderfully lovable cast, Director Mike Donahue does a terrific job keeping the pace at breakneck speed in this outrageously funny farce that skewers anyone who has ever put on a show, experienced prop mayhem, or bolloxed up the sound cues with a nod to Charles Dragonette and Jenya Holbert for the wacky set design. Cheers to all actors and backstage crew who love the theater life and are celebrated in this madcap spoof.

See it for a hundred laughs.

Lighting Design by Ken and Patti Crowley; Sound Design by Janice Rivera; Costume Design by Robbie Snow and Ali Zaikouk.

Paul Donahoe (Vondo), Teresa Preston (Jeannie), John Paul Odie (Mike), and Eleanore Tapscott (Harriet) (Photo/Fred Lash)

Through September 30th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-5778 or visit

Cirque du Soleil’s ECHO Wows Audiences in its US Premiere at the Lerner Town Square.

Cirque du Soleil’s ECHO Wows Audiences in its US Premiere at the Lerner Town Square.

Cirque du Soleil
Jordan Wright
September 12, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Cirque Du Soleil

Welcome back, Cirque! It’s been a minute and we’ve missed you and your magical universe. Not since their production of Volta in July of 2019 has the famed troupe set up their blue-and-white tents in Tysons Corner at the Lerner Town Square. Echo is the US premiere of their highest-sold show in all of Cirque history.

(Photo/Jean-François Savaria)

Emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between Nature and the Environment through the importance of the human connection, is the theme for this 100-minute extravaganza. Expect jaw-dropping high-wire acts, eyeball-popping acrobatics, out-of-this-world juggling feats, rooftop-reaching teeter board leaps and flips, and an astonishing array of the sort of spectacular acts you’ve come to expect from this wildly creative Canadian production team and its super talented artists from around the world.

(Photo/Jean-François Savaria)

Our two playfully curious leads are the young girl, Future, and her bestie, an adorably cute fox. The pair, who frequently race through the audience in pursuit of each other, are dressed in matching cloud prints. Together they explore a giant cube housing multiple compartments and where our inquisitive pair discover their new-found friends – cream-colored, frolicking animals. Oh my! The Cube is designed to open in random configurations to reveal a number of fantastical things like Ohmygosh! a high-wire slack-rope pair of daredevils or movable squares out of which pop different characters and props. The most awe-inspiring is a massive 50-foot – I’m guessing the height here – fully-articulated man who gingerly holds Future in the palm of his hand.

(Photo/Jean-François Savaria)

Since the show is enhanced by atmospheric New Age music with a stronger rhythm for the most electrifying acts, Echo’s musicians and singers perform in all black costumes with felted antlers. The soothing mood music contrasts seamlessly with lighter-themed circus music that accompanies a pair of cleverly comical clowns. Some of the acts are so breath-taking they are nearly indescribable. A gasp-inducing, two-man tumbling act, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, beggars description. Ditto for the death-defying aerial acts – two women suspended by their hair, spinning wildly high above the stage. Keep a sharp eye out for the avian drones that fly high above the crowd, a contortionist that defies the known constraints of the human body and listen for the pulsing backbeat percussion that urges the artists onward to the top of the tent. The agility, grace and power are off the charts!

Highly recommended. See it and bring everyone you know!

(Photo/Jean-François Savaria)

Through October 22nd under the big top at Lerner Town Square at Tysons II. For tickets and information visit

A Farmer’s Wife Finds Passion and Purpose in America’s Heartland in The Bridges of Madison County at Signature Theatre

A Farmer’s Wife Finds Passion and Purpose in America’s Heartland in The Bridges of Madison County at Signature Theatre

The Bridges of Madison County
August 20, 2023
Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
Special to The Zebra 

Mark Evans (Robert Kincaid) and Erin Davie (Francesca Johnson) (Photo by Daniel Rader)

Readers will remember Robert James Waller’s wildly successful 1992 best-selling novel on which Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman bases this 2013 musical adaptation and followed the eponymous 1995 film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. With music and lyrics by the brilliant composer, Jason Roberts Brown, it garnered two Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Orchestrations in 2014.

Coming off his recent success with Pacific Overtures, Signature Theatre’s recently appointed Associate Artistic Director Ethan Heard directs this sweeping love story focusing on the indelible integrity of the score performed by its two leads, Erin Davie as the beautiful Francesca Johnson and Mark Evans as her lover, Robert Kincaid.

Rayanne Gonzales (Marge) and Christopher Bloch (Charlie)  (Photo by Daniel Rader)

The story is set in America’s heartland where iconic covered bridges can still be found and where Robert’s National Geographic assignment leads him to Winterset, Iowa to find and photograph all six of them. Francesca, a post-war Neapolitan transplant to America is married to “Bud” Johnson (Cullen R. Titmas) and the farming couple have two children, Michael (Nolan Montgomery) and Carolyn (Julia Wheeler Lennon). When Francesca begs off a family trip to Davenport for the Iowa State Fair, she revels in her solitude and friendship with neighbors, Marge (Rayanne Gonzalez) and Charlie (Christopher Bloch) in “You’re Never Alone”. Soon she is very much not alone when hot and hunky Robert turns into her driveway to ask directions to one of the covered bridges. In “What Do You Call a Man Like That?” she reveals stirrings of a fire she had tamped down after 18 years of marriage. Their subsequent 4-day forbidden love affair is a story of intense passion and the sexual reawakening of a woman who sacrificed her emotional needs to devote herself to farm and family.

Marina Pires (State Fair Singer) and the cast of The Bridges of Madison County at Signature Theatre. (Photo by Daniel Rader)

Davie’s and Evans’ perfectly complementing voices prove irresistible in Brown’s lush score. Their duets on “Get Closer/Falling Into You” and “Before and After You/A Million Miles” are magical. And I was pleasantly delighted by Marina Pires who holds multiple roles as Marian, Chiara, State Fair Singer, Ginny and Waitress. Her delivery of “Another Life” is outstanding.

 Between the rapturous love scenes on a quilt-covered brass bed, neighbors Marge and Charlie provide the levity as they examine their own marriage and their indelible connection to each other. Yes, marriage takes a healthy dose of humor!

Backed by Conductor William Yanesh’s 12-piece orchestra, this moving musical will steal your heart.

Music Directed by Laura Berquist; Choreography by Kelly Crandall d’Amboise; Scenic Design by Lee Savage; Costume Design by Kathleen Geldard; Lighting Design by Jesse Belsky; Sound Design by Eric Norris.

Highly recommended.

Mark Evans (Robert Kincaid) and Erin Davie (Francesca Johnson) (Photo by Daniel Rader)

Through September 18th at Signature Theatre in Shirlington Village, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 820-9771 or visit