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Twelfth Night Jitterbugs Into the Jazz Age At Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
January 13, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Philip Fletcher as Orsino and Kathy Gordon as Olivia. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Philip Fletcher as Orsino and Kathy Gordon as Olivia. Photo by Koko Lanham.

If you’re planning on seeing Twelfth Night, the tenth production in Synetic Theater’s “Silent Shakespeare” series, you’d better dust off your Shakespeare.  Because though the plot is predictable, this production will not recall any Shakespeare play in theatre history.  In a drop dead fabulous re-interpretation of the 1920’s movie era, Director Paata Tsikurishvili has chosen a cinematic theme as his unconventional backdrop for pantomime, slapstick, killer dance sequences and a highly eclectic music score.

Picture a movie set replete with klieg lights, pulleys, ladders, a giant scrim, a camera dolly, and vintage Moviola editing equipment.  On stage left there’s an upright piano concealing a secret bar and Scott Joplin rags play on a Victrola.  It’s the Roaring 20’s when the Charleston was king, Chaplin ruled the silver screen, and the Lindy Hop lured partiers high on bathtub gin onto dance floors across America.

Alex Mills as Sebastian, Kathy Gordon as Olivia and Dallas Tolentino as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Photo by Koko Lanham

Alex Mills as Sebastian, Kathy Gordon as Olivia and Dallas Tolentino as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Photo by Koko Lanham

Scene One opens with two white-faced clowns in their satins arguing in mime over the Twelfth Night script.  The lead clown, a sort of John Huston/Orson Welles mashup, is the director of this film-within-a-play who cuts the action with his clapperboard.  Along with his comic cohort they monitor the performers, while seeming to capture the action on film.

And what action it is.  Jazz Age flappers cavort with drunken Casanovas in zoot suits and, as per Shakespeare’s best follies, the characters’ intentions get pretty well muddled up.  Subtle references translate into major devices as in a complex number in which the dancers become entrapped in an unspooling reel of film.  The use of the large scrim to separate the scenes is clever, but when it’s used to show occasional quotes from the play, projected in the style of the silent film era as intertitles, the words often become obstructed by the actors and props and ultimately serves only as a distraction.

Philip Fletcher as Orsino and Irina Tsikurishvili as Viola. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Philip Fletcher as Orsino and Irina Tsikurishvili as Viola. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Assistant Director/Music Director Irakli Kavsadze has selected some astonishingly varied pieces to accompany the dancers.  I recognized “Santa Lucia”, “Yes, Sir! That’s My Baby!”, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing)” and even the “Mexican Hat Dance” tossed in among jazz era tunes, classical music, opera, and an original score by award-winning Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze.

Set Designer Phil Charlwood and Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills have meticulously channeled the era placing Viola (Irina Tsikurishvili), Orsino (Phillip Fletcher), Malvolio (Irakli Kavsadze), Olivia (Kathy Gordon), Feste (Ben Cunis), Sebastian (Alex Mills), Sir Toby Belch (Hector Reynoso), Fabian (Vato Tsikurishvili), Maria (Irina Kavsadze), and Sir Andrew Aquecheek (Dallas Tolentino) into this stylishly romantic farce.  The cast is beyond marvelous - - utterly in synch and balance.  You’ll see no scene-stealers here, though Fletcher’s Orsino is perhaps the most adorably absurd of the Lotharios.

Costume Designer Kendra Rai punctuates the theme using a black, white and silver palette to convey the dazzling period.

Highly recommended.

Through February 16th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

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