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Passion and Pathos Unbridled in Synetic Theater’s Romeo and Juliet

Jordan Wright
November 28, 2011
Special to The Alexandria Times

Natalie Berk  as Juliet and Alex Mills as Romeo - Photo Credit:  Graeme B. Shaw

Natalie Berk as Juliet and Alex Mills as Romeo - Photo Credit: Graeme B. Shaw

When Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili asked in his  intro, “How many of you have been to a Synetic production before?” and half the  audience’s hands shot up, even he was as surprised as the rest of us converts  to this exciting brand of physical theatre.  My seat neighbors, a mother and daughter who were Paraguayan, asked me  if the play was silent.  I could hardly  wait to see their reactions after the show.  (In a small world moment they were just as amazed to see a fellow  countryman in the production.) 

A giant swaying pendulum is the symbol Synetic Theater presents  to describe the inconvenient passage of time in its recent remount of their  celebrated and multiple Helen Hayes-awarded production of Romeo and Juliet.  Time, as  shown by the inner workings of a clock with its individual gears heaving forth  and trapping the players in its relentless grip, becomes a metaphor for life.  It is a powerful and intriguing image – a ‘time  monster’ that gobbles up both the innocent and the guilty – and it is repeated  throughout as the characters spin in and out among the moving parts.

As the last in Synetic’s “Speak No More” trilogy of silent  Shakespeare plays, it is a clear departure from the more grisly Othello and Macbeth that preceded it.   So it is refreshing when in place of the clash of swords the only sound  the audience hears echoing off the back seats are kisses.  There are kisses of endearment from the Nanny  to Juliet, Juliet’s father Lord Capulet to her, and Friar Laurence who plants a  paternal kiss on Romeo’s pate.  And yes,  you can hear each one.  But the kisses  and lovemaking between Romeo and Juliet are the most unforgettably electrifying  exchanges.

In a radical interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic tale,  Synetic explores the physicality and raw emotionality of Romeo and Juliet’s  love.  At their first meeting they mirror each other’s emotions, swaying together as they fluidly synch their movements.

With flashing spotlights alternating from all sides of the  stage, we witness the lovers arriving in their bedchamber after their wedding  vows.  The scene progresses to a single-beamed  and scrim-silhouetted vignette of a languorous and erotic danse d’amour.  Director  Paata Tsikurishvili opts to play up the lovers’ passions, drawing the audience  in with the use of sensuality and playfulness.   Yet ever present are the insinuating gears, twisting and turning,  screeching and clacking, marking time for the fated lovers.

When Ryan Sellers makes his entrance as the villainous  Tybalt, using arrogance and swagger, he transforms the masked ball scene in the  second act from one of merriment and celebration to one of impending danger and  we see the tension between the families arise as Lord Capulet steps in to put  an end to his fight with Romeo.

The street scene in which the Nurse (played by the  enchantingly feisty Irina Tsikurishvili) goes to deliver a message to Romeo and meets up with Mercutio is also fraught with raw sexuality.  Phillip Fletcher (Mercutio) comes off as a  delicious scoundrel in a lengthy battle between the sexes.  But she gives as good as she gets and his  abuse is trumped in a complex fight scene between the two with the Nurse coming  out on top with a wink and a nod to women power.

The gorgeous Fredericksburg, VA actor Alex Mills brings a sexy  vitality to the role of Romeo in perfect counterbalance to the exquisite  Natalie Berk as Juliet, who embodies the quintessence of innocence with her  delicate lithesome grace.  To support the  dancers with powerful background music Sound Designer Irakli Kavsadze  interweaves mesmerizing electronica and waltzes along with Gregorian chants to transition  scenes from violence to passion.

If you’ve never seen Synetic Theater’s productions, and  apparently there are a few who haven’t, don’t miss this one.

Through December 23rd at Synetic Theater, 1800  South Bell Street, Arlington, VA in Crystal City – For tickets and information  call 1 800 494-8497 or visit

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