“The Servant of Two Masters” is a Master Class in Pantomime

“The Servant of Two Masters” is a Master Class in Pantomime

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
April 9, 2022
Special to The Alexandria Times

Vato Tsikurishvili as Truffaldino and Maryam Najafzada as Smeraldina in Synetic’s The Servant
of Two Masters. Photo by Johnny Shryock Photography

In a triumphant post-Covid return to the stage, Director Vato Tsikurishvili presents The Servant of Two Masters, a commedia del’arte farce designed to poke, prod and tickle our funny bone. Designed to play up to Synetic’s singular skills in mime and physical comedy, the characters are silent – their superior physicality backgrounded by Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s edgy cool electronica sounds mixed with the strains of Edith Piaf period French accordion music. I even detected a tack piano in one of the love scenes.

It’s easy to fall into the fantasy of the lovers and the fools and root for their desire to be together come hell or high water. The vagabond Truffaldino (Vato Tsikurishvili) and his lady Smeraldina (Maryam Najafzada) and the female to male and back again role-shifting Beatrice (Nutsa Tediashvili) and her lover Florindo (Jacob Thompson). A third couple complicates the antics further with the pouty teenager Clarice (Irene Hamilton) and her adoring swain, Silvio (Pablo Guillen).  The three couples face challenges and interruptions to their love but manage against all odds to triumph. Well, of course, there’s a happy ending – after everyone is put through the proverbial wringer.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Truffaldino and Maryam Najafzada as Smeraldina in Synetic’s The Servant
of Two Masters. Photo by Johnny Shryock Photography

In the inimitable style of Charlie Chaplin with a dash of the Keystone Kops and the legendary Buster Keaton, the director’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century farce, is filled with electrifying chases spliced with tangos, waltzes and a soupçon of ballet. But what’s even more unforgettable are the hilarious love scenes. In one, Truffaldino and Smeraldina cement their love over a clothesline. Here they slip their arms into garments hanging on the line and dance together entwining each other in a playfully romantic danse à deux that includes a sexy slurping scene. In another the lovers playfully stretch dough into crazy shapes while working in a hotel kitchen overseen by Pantalone (Philip Fletcher) as Truffaldino races madly back and forth across the stage in order serve the outrageous demands of his two masters, Beatrice and Florindo.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Truffaldino and Maryam Najafzada as Smeraldina in Synetic’s The Servant
of Two Masters. Photo by Johnny Shryock Photography

Surprises abound and a clever moving stage unfolds and whirls around to reveal a bed for romantic entanglements, double stairways, hidden cubicles and more, all cleverly designed by Phil Charlwood. The dizzying love story has many moving parts and you’ll need to be on your toes between the death-defying acrobatics, leaps and pratfalls and the beautifully executed dance sequences. Through it all there is the sensuality of the lovers and those determined to foil their love played out in a true master class of pantomime. Watch for our hero Truffaldino’s incomparable physical skills combined with his singular ability to convey both angst and adoration in a vast array of facial expressions. He is well complemented by his love interest, the adorable and delicate gamine Maryam Najafzada whose comedic style is utterly enchanting. The entire cast shines from beginning to end.

Highly recommended.

With Guillen in the dual roles of Silvio and Federigo and Delbis Cardona as both Cop and Chef.

Choreographed by Maryam Najafzada, harlequinesque Costumes by Aleksandr Shiriaev; Lighting Design by Brian Allard; Sound Design by Yaritza Pacheco; Props by Emily Carbone.

Through May 1st at Synetic Theater at Crystal City, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202.  For tickets and information visit www.SyneticTheater.org or call the box office at 703 824-8060 ext.117. Strict Covid protocols remain in place.

Note: On April 29th Synetic will stage a benefit performance for United Help Ukraine, Inc. featuring excerpts from Lyrica Classic’s Prayer for Peace and a full performance of The Servant of Two Masters. All proceeds will go to UnitedHelpUkraine.org.

Phantom of the Opera ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
February 10, 2020
Special to the Alexandria Times 

In an extraordinary adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, Director Paata Tsikurishvili re-envisions the Phantom’s world – not as an opera, but as a ballet.  It is a tremendous stroke of genius.  The most ballet-centric production Synetic Theater has ever mounted, it stars two of the company’s most brilliant dancers.  Irina Tsikurishvili, Synetic founding member and the company’s choreographer, plays the Phantom in a pulse-quickening, gender-reversed, absolutely magnificent tour de force performance.  One of the company’s newest members, Maryam Najafzada, a sylph-like ballet dancer from Azerbaijan – all arms, legs, wide eyes and pouty lips – plays Christine.  The incandescent Najafzada made her debut in October 2018 as a horse spirit in Synetic’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow and, unsurprisingly, she has since been a featured dancer.

Maryam Najafzada as Christine and Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

In this fantastic reimagining, we first meet the Phantom’s younger self as the dancer she once was.  Disfigured by the fire that destroyed the Opera House, she makes her home in an aqueous grotto far below stage.  Characters portrayed in the original story as rival opera singers, here are claws-out ballerinas keen to have the role of prima ballerina given to Christine’s rival, Carlotta.

Maryam Najafzada as Christine and Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

When the Phantom dashes Carlotta’s future by dropping a chandelier on her mid-performance, the vicious act ensures Christine will become the company’s prima ballerina.  Slowly, Christine falls deeper in love with the Phantom.  Rejecting her suitor Raoul, she deepens her bond with the Phantom who becomes her dance instructor and their burgeoning infatuation presents us with the most sensually romantic pas de deux in the production.

Maryam Najafzada as Christine with ensemble. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

On a lighter note, interactions among the corps de ballet provide a bird’s-eye view into backstage antics – both the bitter jealousies and the playful camaraderie.  In a particular scene, the secondary dancers review their movements backstage in a kind of hand pantomime, coding the steps they will take onstage.  It’s an insiders’ glimpse into an off-stage routine dancers do, that I have never before seen revealed.  Look for it in Act One.

Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom, L to R: Eliza Smith (ensemble) Maryam Najafzada as Christine, Janine Baumgardner (ensemble) Rachael Small as Carlotta. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

But lest you think it’s all toe dancing and liquid-limbed dancers in tutus, a fair part of this silent production are the fierce fight scenes between the Phantom, her cave-dwelling creatures of the night, Raoul, a host of devils, and Moncharmin, the temperamental ballet master.

Stunning full-stage video projections deposit you smack dab into the center of Paris’s Opera Garnier and its underworld.  A scene in a ballet studio where we watch young students being trained on the barre, grants us a view of Paris from ocular windows high above the city.  Another brings us into the grand opera house fire crackling with flames and crumbling Grecian columns.  Most visceral of all are Raoul’s descending race into the Phantom’s haunted lair.  To save Christine from certain death, he travels through caverns that are a virtual charnel house of the Phantom’s victims.  Coupled with the extraordinary classical music, electronica, and eerie sound effects from Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze and lavish costumes by Erik Teague, this Phantom of the Opera is spellbinding.

Maryam Najafzada as Christine and Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Highly recommended.  Five stars!

Starring Irina Tsikurishvili as Phantom; Maryam Najafzada as Christine; Jacob Thompson as Raoul; Rachael Small as Carlotta; Lottie Guidi as the Young Phantom; Delbis Cardona as Moncharmin.  Ensemble members are Janine Baumgardner, Eliza Smith, Thomas Beheler, Julia Ruth Holland, Joshua Cole Lucas, and Scean Aaron.

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili with Associate Director Katherine DuBois Maguire; Choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili; Fight Choreographer Vato Tsikurishvili; Costume Design by Erik Teague; Composer, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; Scenic Design by Daniel Pinha; Lighting Design by Brian S. Allard; Projections Designer, Patrick Lord; Adapter, Nate Weinberger.

Through February 29th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 866.811.4111 or visit www.SyneticTheater.org

The Tempest ~ Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 1, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

Take The Tempest.  Now place it on a stage holding 2,500 gallons of water, six-inches deep.  Got it?  Mix the technological wizardry of a cutting-edge audio/visual immersive experience with an electronic score and keep it utterly wordless.  This is the fantasy world created by Synetic Theatre’s version of Shakespeare’s familiar drama.  Born out of the seemingly limitless imagination of visionary Artistic Director, Paata Tsikurishvili, a Georgian-born, theatrical pioneer and his wife Irina Tsikurishvili, actress and choreographer, who together founded this uniquely transgressive, no-rules theatre company, the two theater idealists combined to reinvent the classics through the art of athleticism, aesthetics, futuristic sound, and physicality as no other theater company.

Irina Tsikurishvili as Prospera. “The Tempest” at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

As with early Shakespeare productions, gender reversal was the norm as men played all the roles, both male and female.  In this production Paata toys with gender, casting Prospero as a newly minted, “Prospera”, played by his wife, Irina, a dancer/choreographer and 33-time Helen Hayes Award nominee.  Ariel, the female sprite, is imagined as male and performed by the tremendously talented dancer/performer, Alex Mills, who appears as a pop-locking, anime-inspired superhero, stylistically reminiscent of Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer.

Alex Mills as Ariel. “The Tempest” at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Welcome to Synetic’s phantasmagoric world of enchantment and mysticism.  Overflowing with dizzying acrobatics, flips, and watery somersaults, it offers up a seemingly psychedelic experience far outside the realm of the Shakespeare you have come to know.  You will never see anything like it in your lifetime.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Caliban. “The Tempest” at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Cutting an elegant swath through an aqueous mist Prospera, the sorceress, cuts a majestic figure as she stands bravely amidst the sounds of crashing waves interwoven with electronica and futuristic synth-pop.  Hidden behind prison gates in a fiery-red grotto, lurks the malevolent monster, Caliban (Vato Tsikurishvili at his most magnificent).  He emerges stealthily, inching beneath the waves and the two lock horns as water spews across the stage, catching the light and spraying wildly onto the first three rows.  Dominated by splashing water, rainstorms, ferocious battles, amorphous sea creatures and playful comic scenes, this wildly atmospheric water world will be your new normal.

“The Tempest” at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

The entirety of this cast is outstanding in every respect.  In a production that redefines acting as both intensely physical and dramatically interpretive, the casting requires a unique kind of performer – one who is both classically trained in ballet and acrobatics, and who must be in top physical condition.  I was utterly blown away by the fearless athleticism and extraordinary acting expressed by this amazing cast.

Five stars! Bring the kids.

*** The first three rows are known as the “splash zone” and courtesy ponchos are graciously provided.  Request these seats when booking your tickets if you’re up for a totally immersive experience.

With Anne Flowers as Syncorax, Megan Khaziran as Antonia, Scott Brown as Ferdinand, Pablo Guillen as King Alonso, Katherine DuBois Maguire as Trinculo, Matt R. Stover as Stephano, and Scean Aaron and Katherine Frattini in the ensemble.

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili with Composer & Sound Designer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, Scenic & Costume Designer Anastasia Simes and Lighting Designer Andrew Griffin.

Through October 20th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Treasure Island ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
July 23, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times 

“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest.  Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!  Drink and the devil had done for the rest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Set sail for adventure with Synetic Theater’s lively production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale, Treasure Island, where the peg-legged pirate Long John Silver and his scurrilous band of buccaneers go in search of hidden riches on Skeleton Island.  Hired by Captain Smollet, Dr. Livesey, and Squire Trelawney who commissions the voyage, Silver, protégé of the notorious Captain Flint who hid the treasure, pretends to be a lowly cook.  Once aboard, Silver convinces the motley crew of scalliwags to switch allegiance, promising them riches beyond their wildest imaginings.  At first Silver befriends the beautiful orphan girl Jane Hawkins who has been gifted Flint’s treasure map by the late Billy Bones.  Fans of the late 19thcentury adventure novel will note that Jim Hawkins’ role in this production is a female character who develops the ferocity and fearlessness of any seafaring pirate.

Photo credit Brittnay Diliberto

Saving her from a life of servitude at the Admiral Benbow Inn, Silver promises Jane he will watch over her if she will give him the map, but once aboard the Hispaniola, she learns his scheme to keep the treasure for himself. Oh, he’s a wily one.  “Treasure is like a disease.  It infects the noblest of minds,” he cautions her.

Photo credit Brittnay Diliberto

Plotting to outfox our heroes, as well as the brave Jane Hawkins, Silver must figure out how to get the map that Hawkins has given to Dr. Livesey for safekeeping.  But nothing goes as planned for either side as it’s criss-cross and double-cross, foul treachery and maritime mutiny, framed by dangerous storms at sea.  Jane comes out the hero by turning on Silver one last time even though Silver saves her life from the clutches of his blood-thirsty crew who have locked up the Captain and Trelawney in the stockade.

Photo credit Brittnay Diliberto

Chris Daileader, a mashup of Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp, gives a fantastic performance replete with a British pirate’s accent as the crafty pirate Long John Silver.  And Anne Flowers’ portrayal of Jane Hawkins makes us believe that a girl can do anything against all odds if she sets her cap to it.  Seven more actors, each playing multiple roles, create the illusion that there is a huge cast.  Scenes of rum-swilling pirates dancing to Irish jigs will dispel any and all evil spirits of the deep.

Director Tori Tolentino, Set Designer Phil Charlwood, Movement Director Dallas Tolentino, and Sound Designer Thomas Sowers have taken this beloved pirate’s tale into the abstract with fantastical imagery and sheer athleticism, and made the pages of the book come alive with swashbuckling swordfights and fearless swagger.  Here, prophesy and foul play transform into a rollicking adventure tailor made for children and as well as their grownup captors!

Photo credit Brittnay Diliberto

With Karina Hilleard as Squire Trelawney; Da’Von T. Moody as Dr. Levesey; Billie Krishawn as Captain Smollett; Lee Liebeskind as Billy Bones/Israel Hands/Ensemble; Scott Whalen as Ben Gunn/Clem/Ensemble; Anna Lynch as Innkeeper/Morgan/Ensemble; Raven Lorraine as Pew/Merry/Ensemble; Irene Hamilton as Black Dog/Tommie/Ensemble; Conor Donahue as Flint/Gates/Ensemble; and Darius Johnson as Abraham Grey/Tarth/Ensemble.

Adapted by Tori & Dallas Tolentino; Resident Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze; Costumes by Jeannette Christensen; and Lighting Design by Paul Callahan.

Highly recommended – especially coupled with a visit to Alexandria’s 18thcentury, replica tall ship ‘Providence’ permanently docked at the base of King Street where kids can indulge their own seafaring fantasies.

Through August 18that Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Richard iii ~ Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
May 20, 2019 

Alex Mills as Richard iii ~ Photo Credit Brittany Diliberto

Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili calls this Richard iii “the most challenging production ever.”  That may well be an understatement, because since the company’s inception nearly 20 years ago, they have consistently broken ranks with theatrical stereotypes through their uniquely unparalleled, highly creative productions.  For his vision of Shakespeare’s Richard iii (note the lower case “I”), Tsikurishvili returns to the company’s “wordless Shakespeare”.

Richard iii ~ Photo Credit Brittany Diliberto

It is the fourteenth they have employed this silent technique to ground-breaking effect and the first time it has been used to create a new story-telling style wherein disembodied voices occasionally speak by video projection grounding the plot by illustrating certain important moments.  Magnified by a powerful surround sound system to background Richard’s murderous reign, this production becomes a virtual, multi-media, full-on techno experience that is eerily bloodless.

Richard iii ~ Photo Credit Brittany Diliberto

After a serious battle injury and subsequent reconstruction, Richard accustoms himself to his new cyber body by using controls implanted into his robotic arm.  Using digital combat technology, he is able to kill his victims (all thirteen of them) by projecting them onto giant touchscreens where he can then drag and drop their images effectively vaporizing them.  I’ll skip the plot synopsis, that’s what CliffsNotes are for, but you can easily follow through the continuous video projections, as well as the performers’ interactions that show Richard evolving into the cruel, soulless monster he has been programmed to be.

Irina Tsikurishvili as Queen Elizabeth ~ Photo Credit Brittany Diliberto

Emotionally disconnected, his Orwellian rampage continues.  No one is spared – not his cohorts, nor his royal family.  “Deformed, unfinished… I am determined to prove a villain,” he asserts.  In Tsikurishvili’s futuristic world of cyborgs, zombies and warrior droids, Richard is a far more efficient killer than Shakespeare could ever have imagined.

The transformation of King Richard ~ Photo Credit Brittany Diliberto

As we have come to expect from this Georgian troupe’s dazzling performances, there are mind-blowing displays of sheer physicality, intricately choreographed dances, gravity-defying fights, touches of wry humor (the Duke of Buckingham vapes pot), as well as classic pantomime.  Award-worthy performances by Alex Mills as Richard, Phillip Fletcher as King Edward and Irina Tsikurishvili as Queen Elizabeth.

Artistically brilliant, visually riveting and provocative.  A five-star production with a flawless cast.

With Matt R. Stover as Buckingham, Maryam Najafzada as Lady Anne, Thomas Beheler as Clarence, Jordan Clark Halsey as Richmond, Tim Proudkii as Prince, Aaron Kan as Younger Prince, Nutsa Tediashvili as Princess Elizabeth, Ana Tsikurishvili as Tyrell, Scean Aaron as Ratcliffe.

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, Choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili, Resident Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, Scenic and Multimedia Design by Tennessee Dixon, Adapted by Nathan Weinberger, Lighting Design by Brian S. Allard, Costume Designs by Erik Teague, Sound Design by Thomas Sowers, Video Producer & Editor Scott Brown.

Through June 16th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 800.494.8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Cyrano de Bergerac ~ Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 14, 2019

Maryam Najafzaga as Roxanne – Photo credit is Johnny Shryock

Talk about drama!  With a scant 24-hour notice Vato Tsikurishvili was thrust into the role of Cyrano when leading man Justin Bell fell ill.  Vato, a consummate performer and teacher, has performed in countless Synetic productions – his parents, Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, are co-founding Artistic Directors.  He has performed with the troupe since he was four and is a nine-time Helen Hayes Award nominee and five-time award-winning ensemble member with Synetic.  He is also the Director of this production of Cyrano de Bergerac and naturally knew all the scenes.  And since this is one of Synetic’s famed series wordless productions., at least he didn’t have to learn lines!  Crisis averted.

The Cast of Cyrano de Bergerac – Photo credit is Johnny Shryock

During the six years I have reviewed Synetic’s stagings, they have performed within many unique sets.  I once was blown away as they did the entire play in six inches of sand and another time for The Tempest the stage was constructed to hold six inches of water.  Once they surrounded the stage with tall plexiglass panels so the audience wouldn’t get drenched in Day-Glo paint that was splashed around in a massive hookah-smoking party scene.  But in this equally imaginative interpretation, one of their finest to date, there is no elaborate staging and no moving sets.  It is just pure theater – full of classical pantomime,  eye-popping dance and clever acrobatics.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Cyrano with Maryam Najafzada as Roxanne – Photo credit is Johnny Shryock

We all know the story of Cyrano.  Dismissed as a lover by his unappealing looks (the nose!), he nevertheless remains friends with Roxanne.  When his dashing friend Christian tells him of his love for the beautiful Roxanne, Cyrano takes a back seat, helping Christian write tender love letters while the men are off to war.  As a result, she falls madly in love with Christian and marries him only to discover after his death, that Cyrano is the author of those letters that so touched her heart.  Their re-uniting as old folks is what makes this an indelible and ageless love story.

Matt R. Stover as Christian with Maryam Najafzada as Roxanne – Photo credit is Johnny Shryock

Vato uses the 19th century play by Edmond Rostand as backdrop for this magnificent action ballet and pantomime starring Maryam Najafzada, a young classically-trained Azerbaijan ballerina.  We saw and raved about her last October in Synetic’s production of Sleepy Hollow.  Najafzada is as liquid as poured mercury.  She first appears as a swan bathed in a golden light.  Her dance is en pointe in a tutu that releases downy white feathers when she flutters.  Her facial expressions speak more words than words could.  She is magnificent.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Cyrano – Photo credit Johnny Shyrock

An invented character called Time is played by another Synetic regular, Ana Tsikurishvili, the daughter of Paata and Irina.  A thoroughly captivating dancer clad in harlequin tights and a tutu, she signifies the passage of time and the futility of hours wasted in unrequited love.  This delicate enchantress beckons Cyrano to make haste while life passes him by, appearing with fluttering doves in her attempt to end the war.

Ana Tsikurishvili as Time ~ Photo credit Johnny Shyrock

This action play owes much of its lyrical allure to Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography, especially in the pas de deux with Cyrano and Roxanne, and another with Time and Roxanne, as well as its immersive mood created by Konstantine Lortipanidze who weaves techno-pop with tango.

A feast for the eyes and heart.   Highly recommended.

With Matt R. Stover as Christian; Phillip Fletcher as De Guiche; and Anne Flowers as Priest.

Resident Composer & Sound Designer, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; Lighting Designer, Brian S. Allard; Adapter, Nathan Weinberger; Scenic Designer, Phil Charlwood; and Costume Designer, Alison Samantha Johnson.
Through March 10th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.