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

Synetic’s Beauty and the Beast Conquers All

Synetic’s Beauty and the Beast Conquers All

Beauty and the Beast
Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
March 7, 2023
Special to The Zebra


Irina Kavsadze as Belle with Zana Gankhuyag as the Beast (Photo/Elman Studios)

With his son Vato by his side, a standing ovation greeted Synetic co-founder, Paata Tsikurshvili as he stood onstage for the opening night of Beauty and the Beast. Paata had been in a serious car crash last December and seeing him in good health thrilled the audience of longtime supporters. As Founding Artistic Director of the highly creative Georgian troupe, Paata along with his choreographer wife, Irina, has continued to shepherd their wildly successful productions since their formation in 2009.

The troupe, which was to star father and son for the first time together on stage in years, had scheduled War of the Worlds for the March slot, but with Paata’s accident in mind pivoted to a version of one of their earlier successes. It was a night filled with anticipation and emotion.

Rachael Small as Emmeranne (Witch), Nutsa Tediashvili as Claudette (Sister), Irina Kavsadze as Belle, and Irene Hamilton as Marie (Sister) (Photo/Elman Studios)

“Everyone knows that crows don’t talk,” quoth Emmerane (Rachael Small) clad as a Goth crow who is both keeper of the legend and narrator of the story. In this ancient folk tale, lies the myth of the prince turned into a beast and restored to his former self through the love of a beautiful and kindly woman. In typical Synetic fashion, humor is interspersed with raging fight scenes, extraordinary acrobatics and romantic dance.

The opening scene finds the beautiful Belle (Irina Kavsadze) with her two adorably silly sisters Claudette (Nutsa Tediashvili) and Marie (Irene Hamilton) as they prepare to bid farewell to their father, John Paul (Irakli Kavsadze), off to retrieve his ship laden with fine goods. Claudette and Marie comically primp and pose, begging their father to bring them back jewels and finery. They tussle over Avenant (Jacob Thompson) a handsome prince who has eyes only for Belle. When Belle becomes lost in the woods while searching for her father, The Beast (Zana Gankhuyag) portrayed as half-man half-forest animal, rescues her from a pack of hungry wolves and takes her to his castle. The story remains close to the original with the addition of the astounding, gravity-defying physicality and clever mime routines.

Rachael Small as Emmeranne (Witch) with Irakli Kavsadze as Jean Paul (Father), Irina Kavsadze as Belle, Nutsa Tediashvili as Claudette (Sister), and Irene Hamilton as Marie (Sister) (Photo/Elman Studios)

To great effect, Director/Adaptor Ben Cunis features some of the chase scenes with black-and-white, backlit, silhouette artistry reminiscent of Arthur Rackham’s beautifully illustrated “Sleeping Beauty”. With this original interpretation there are breathtaking dramatic scenes mixed with deeply emotional poignancy – all with very little speaking. Some of the most incredible battle scenes you’ll ever witness in a theater come from the creative minds of Co-Director and Fight Choreographer Vato Tsikurishvili and Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili.

I must confess I was particularly taken by Gankhuyag as The Beast. His terrifying entrance morphing seamlessly into a kind and caring lover, is both haunting and memorable and notable too is Small in the role of Emmerlane who held the audience captive as her speaking role predicated the story line. In the fight scenes both Synetic alum Philip Fletcher as Magnificent and Jacob Thompson as Avenant were utterly captivating with their dead falls and eye-popping leaps that catapulted the duo across the stage to audible gasps from the appreciative audience.

We all need fairy tales and this one is immortal. Not for children, but teens and adults will love it. Highly recommended.

Irina Kavsadze as Belle with Zana (Photo/Elman Studios)

Ensemble members Osama Ashour and Lev Belolipetski.

Co-Adaptor, Peter Cunis; Original Music by Clint Herring and Andrew Gerlicher; Puppet Designer, Zana Gankhuyag; Original Costume Designer, Kendra Rai; Remount Costume Designer, Delaney Theisz.

Through April 2nd at Synetic Theater at Crystal City, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 703 824-8060 x 117.

A Wintery Fable Enchants All Ages at Synetic Theater

 A Wintery Fable Enchants All Ages at Synetic Theater

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
December 2, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Drawing on a centuries-old fable, Director and Helen Hayes Award-winning Choreographer, Irina Tsikurishvili, channels the troupe’s earliest performance experiences in America when they worked strictly in the grand tradition of mime. The Snow Maiden harkens back to those times with a wordless and original interpretation of the classic tale which inspired Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen to write “The Little Match Girl”. Thankfully, this newly minted version is a charming story that leaves out the darker themes of earlier versions. This enchanting two-hander features a boy who lives by himself in a tiny cottage in the woods and a little girl with magical powers who represents the traditional granddaughter of Grandfather Frost.

Set to a background of Christmas carols (I heard “O Tannenbaum”, “Noël” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”) and classical music, the boy (played by Vato Tsikurishvili) builds a snow maiden (Maryam Najafzada – a leading light in the Azerbaijan Ballet Theater) who amid a forest of towering, snow-covered pine trees, springs to life. Together they explore the frozen forest making snow angels, having snowball fights, and playing hide and seek.

Maryam Najafzada as Snow Maiden and Vato Tsikurishvili as The Boy (Photo/Michael Butcher)

In a particularly beautiful scene, the little girl teaches the boy how to ice skate. Their gliding motions, enhanced with spectacular over the shoulder lifts, spins and flips put me in mind of Olympic skaters Torvill and Dean who revolutionized ice dance. But they were on ice! not on a wooden stage. It boggles the mind how these two performers convince us they are skating on ice. Glittering stars in a dark blue night sky lead us to dream of the holidays in snow-laden forests and the possibilities that wishes can come true if we believe.

A wintery jewel box of a production that springs to life just when we need it most. Ideally suited for children and the grownups who take them.

Highly recommended.

Maryam Najafzada as Snow Maiden and Vato Tsikurishvili as The Boy (Photo/Michael Butcher)

Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze; Production Designer Aleksandr Shiriaev; Costume Designer Kasey Brown; Lighting Designer Peter Leibold VI; Technical Director Phil Charlwood; Sound Engineer Matthew Datcher.

Through December 23rd at Synetic Theatre, 1800 S. Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information contact the box office at 703 824-8060 x 117 or visit

Synetic’s Dracula is Sexy and Slick


Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
October 18, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Pablo Guillen as Dr. Seward, Philip Fletcher as Holmwood, and Renata Loman as Van Helsing, with Rachael Small (floor, center) as Lucy. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Just in time for us to get our spooky senses aroused for Halloween season, Synetic stages a revival of one of their classics. The opening, wherein Count Dracula vanquishes the Turks to defend his Transylvanian homeland in a sensory-explosive battle, may be one of the company’s most spectacular. Known for their magnificent fight scenes (performers are trained in fight choreography), this one is an explosion of dramatic warfare unleashed from the depths of depravity. Underscored by eerie narration, a terrifying demon spirit and a trio of Dracula’s wives undulating to the strains of Gregorian choirs and electronika, English solicitor, Jonathan Harker travels via coach to the Count’s castle to obtain Dracula’s signature in a land deal. He is led by the Count’s three wives who transmogrify into Harker’s horses spiriting him away to his doom.

Dan Istrate as Dracula and Jacob Thompson as Jonathan Harker. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

When Harker returns to his lover, Mina, in Edwardian London, we find the female vampires mingling with London society at a grand ball replete with a dance of the coffins and with the prime intention of, oh, well, let’s just say what you were already thinking, biting their necks and turning them into future vampires. In a scene straight from the Theatre of the Absurd, they capture Mina’s friend, the beautiful and feisty Lucy, absconding her body back to the castle and the lustful Count who finds her to his “taste”.

Ghouls and grave hunters pepper the sinister landscape as the blood-thirsty vampires follow their sexual desires in a dizzying whirlwind of fantastic dance and dramatic displays of mortal combat. Lighting too plays a key role. You’ll notice scenes lit as though in an Old Dutch masterpiece with shafts of golden light falling on the victims as though they are bathed in heavenly rapture.

Dan Istrate as Dracula and Rachael Small as Lucy. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Who will be Dracula’s next victim and who will be saved from his sanguineous clutches is the burning question for zombie lovers to deduce. Meanwhile, you will most assuredly find a lot to “chew on” in this seductively mordant interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale rendered as erotically salacious as it is bloodthirsty.

Most assuredly NOT for the kiddies, although there is a smattering of oddly out of place tongue-in-cheek humor that tends to disrupt the ghoulish vibe.

Dan Istrate as Dracula. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili; Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili; Fight Choreography by Vato Tsikurishvili; Assistant Director and Sound Design by Irakli Kavsadze; Adapted by Nathan Weinberger; Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze; Costumes Designed by Kendra Rai; Lighting Design by Ian Claar.

Starring Dan Istrate as Dracula; Jacob Thompson as Jonathan Harker; Renata Loman as Van Helsing; Nutsa Tediashvili as Mina; Rachael Small as Lucy; Philip Fletcher as Holmwood; Irakli Kavsadze as Renfield; Pablo Guillen as Dr. Seward; Justin J. Bell as Quincey; Lev Belolipetski as Captain; Rodin Ruiz as Villager; Maryam Najafzada as Dracula’s Wife; Irene Hamilton as Dracula’s Wife; and Anna Tsikurishvili as Dracula’s Wife.

Through November 6th at Synetic Theater at National Landing, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 703 824-8060.

Action-Packed Host & Guest Draws on Epic Battles to Deliver a Powerful Message About War

Action-Packed Host & Guest Draws on Epic Battles to Deliver a Powerful Message About War

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
September 2022
 Special to The Zebra

Dan Istrate as Joqola (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

In one of the most exhilarating productions Synetic Theater has ever mounted Host & Guest transports the audience into a world of epic wars and hand-to-hand fighting so explosive and exciting I felt I was watching a 3-D action-packed, superhero movie loaded with special effects. The musical score by Vato Kakhidze and with Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze was as dramatic as one you’d expect from Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer. Using a combination of spoken word and mime to express the conflicts arising from warring factions, numerous battles rage against a backdrop of tribal politics, ancient laws and religious differences. The parallels to the war in Ukraine cannot be overlooked.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Zviadauri and Dan Istrate as Joqola (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

The story takes place in a remote mountain locale beside a gorge. Joqola (Dan Istrate) finds himself wounded and battle-weary at the home of Zviadauri (Vato Tsikurishvili) who welcomes him in as his guest. Neither Zviadauri nor his wife Agaza (Irina Tsikurishvili) are aware he is the enemy. Soon Musa (Irakli Kavsadze), the village leader discovers he has let the “infidel” into their midst and organizes the villagers to assault Joqola and murder his guest.

There is a ninja-like quality to the battles and a sense of geometry in the choreography by Synetic Co-Founder, Irina Tsikurishvili. In one epic scene the women prepare the men for battle. In unison and in mime they gird the warriors with their weaponry, helmets and shields. Their militaristic movements are precise and the sounds of their lances hitting the floor with staccato-like echoes are indeed haunting.

Ensemble (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

When empathy for the enemy is punished and humanity is ignored, we see how forces unite under a charismatic leader. With an extraordinary cast to underpin its deepest meaning Roland L. Reed’s play based on Vazha Pshavela’s poem by the same name reveals itself to be an existentialist exercise in the futility of war and Shakespearean in its broadest scope.

Director and Co-Founder Paata Tsikurishvili names Synetic’s 20th anniversary season, “Stranger in a Strange Land” and dedicates this production “to the brave people of Ukraine.” His Director’s Note remarks are a powerful warning and a poignant remembrance.

“For more than six months, the civilized world has watched in horror as true tyranny, the Evil Empire, rocks the European continent as they have time and time again for nearly 80 years. The brutal and unprovoked attack on the peaceful nation of Ukraine is cut from the same bloody cloth as the murderous campaigns of Hitler and Stalin, and has the same basic source: A small, petty man ruled by the small, petty need to feed his own warped ego and megalomania. It is a continuation of the endless, cyclical violence portrayed in Vazha Pshavela’s original poem, on which this production is based, and many of our cast and company have seen this violence with their own eyes. Like many of history’s atrocities, the war crimes we are witness to began with someone small and insignificant, but, left unchecked, they have, as we now see every day, spiraled into global disaster.”

Highly recommended.

Ensemble (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

With Philip Fletcher as Mula; Nutsa Tediashvili as Zviadauri’s Wife; Maryam Najafzada as Deer. Villagers are portrayed by Irene Hamilton, Josh Cole Lucas, Justin Bell, Natan-Maël Gray, Robert Bowen Smith, Lev Belolipetski, and Sebastian Newman. Emma Ruckh plays Daughter.

Scenic Design by Phil Charlwood; Costume Design by Carolan Corcoran; Set Design and Costumes in the Original Production by Gogi Alexi Meskhishvili; Lighting Design by Brian Allard; Sound Design by Irakli Kavsadze.

Through October 2nd at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 824-8060 or visit

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
July 7, 2022
Special To The Zebra

Philip Fletcher as Oberon and Stella Bunch as Titania (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Under a Maxfield Parrish moon faeries morph into fireflies casting a magical glow and transporting the audience into a stunning adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic love story. World renowned Synetic Theater presents a highly creative pantomime version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with an evening of visual drama, extraordinary athleticism and Chaplinesque slapstick. Performed around the world since its debut in 2009, this mega-sensory fantasy is one of Synetic’s premiere productions. For those unfamiliar with the company’s many wordless productions of reinterpreted classics such as The Servant of Two Masters, Phantom of the Opera, The Tempest (performed in six inches of water!) and countless mind-blowing presentations over their 20-year history, this richly visual production will make you a convert for life.

Lev Belolipetski as Lysander and Aaron Kan (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Set to a mix of electronika, tango, waltzes and original music by Koki Lortkipanidze (who as Starveling plays silent film music on an upright piano onstage), this beloved dramedy is directed by visionary co-founder Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographed by brilliant co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili. A sensory explosion of color and action, it transports the audience on a phantasmagorical voyage.

Surprises and plot twists will keep you in both suspense and amusement. In the scene where the lovers hide from one another they are discovered in the woods beneath golden lotus leaves in what is typically set in an English garden. Themes of the play-within-a-play are cleverly remixed and so is the relationship between Oberon and Titania. Here we find them as a sexy, belly-dancing Titania (Stella Bunch) and Oberon (Philip Fletcher) as a gladiator-inspired, superhero whose relationship reveals jaw-dropping fight scenes and sensuous tangos.

Katie DuBois as Flute, Vato Tsikurishvili as Bottom, and Pablo
Guillén as Snug (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

As the devilish Puck, tiny redhaired Ariel Kraje’s sinuous and athletic moves reminded me of a Cirque du Soleil artist in flight. Clad in sky blue chiffon tendrils, she is as captivating as a butterfly on the wing. In yet another star turn as one of Synetic’s finest performers Vato Tsikurishvili (in dual roles as both the goofy donkey Bottom and conflicted Egeus) displays a breathtaking range of flips, leaps, fight skills and deadfalls enhanced by his comic facial expressions.

Frothy and fierce and highly recommended. Grab your tickets now!

Nutsa Tediashvili as Hermia and Anna Tsikurishvili as Helena (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

With Irene Hamilton as Hippolyta/Snake; Kim-Anh Aslanian as Cobweb; Alissa Zagorski as Peaseblossom; Nathan Weinberger as Quince; Katherine DuBois as Flute; Pablo Guillen as Smug/Theseus; Josh Lucas as Snout; Lev Belolipetski as Lysander; Nutsa Tediashvili as Hermia; Anna Tsikurishvili as Helena; Aaron Kan as Demetrius; and Bengt-Erik Nelson as Tom. 

Fight Choreographer Ben Cunis; Scenic Design by Phil Charlwood; Costume Design by Anastasia Rurikov; and Lighting Design by Andrew Griffin.

Through July 24th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202.  For tickets and information visit or call the box office one hour before showtime at 703 824-8060 (Extension #117)