We Love Arts: Synetic’s Romeo and Juliet

Natalie Berk  as Juliet and Alex Mills as Romeo, photo by Graeme B. Shaw

Synetic Theater is closing out their Speak no More triptych with Romeo and Juliet. Their take on Shakespeare’s classic tale of thwarted young love is presented – as always – without dialog, relying on staging and dance to convey the story. Or are they presenting dance and framing it within a story? I keep waffling about what answer key to grade the production on, and my level of satisfaction with it depends on which one I’m inclined to use at that moment.

Grading on dance and visual appeal is a slam dunk win. If you like dance and it’s your primary reason for being there you’re golden. There’s nothing I can say about this production that Jenn hasn’t said in half a dozen past reviews. Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography is lovely. Anastasia Simes’ set and costumes are lovely without being overly complicated. It’s hard to find a flaw with this production as a dance performance.

I’m less thrilled with this as a theatrical production. Parts of the story come through wonderfully; in particular Alex Mills and Natalie Berk have a chemistry that sparks. They convey the lovers’ arc from initial fascination and infatuation through a gleeful young love and eventual heartbreak with an almost palpable connection.

Natalie Berk  as Juliet and Alex Mills as Romeo, photo by Graeme B. Shaw

The character superstar has to be Philip Fletcher as Mercutio. He embodies whimsy and passion wonderfully and tumbles on the ground and through the air as if gravity has no hold on him. When he’s supposed to be happy you feel it through your eyeballs. Mercutio’s act first and think later, maybe, comes through superbly. When he and Tsikurishvili as the Nurse face-off it’s enthralling.

Aside from those interactions, however, I felt like we moved through this story without a good through-line. Ryan Sellers’ Tybalt is wonderfully threatening but he and the other Capulets never seemed to be a collective menace, nor do the Montagues seem like a cohesive unit. Instead we get Romeo and Juliet as simple thwarted lovers.

Natalie Berk as Juliet, Irakli Kavsadze as the Friar, and Alex Mills as Romeo, photo by Graeme B. Shaw

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it leaves out a huge chunk of the Romeo and Juliet story and the engine that drives the original: two warring factions whose original complaint with each other has faded and simply become a constant back and forth animosity for its own sake. Instead Tsikurishvili directs this production with a more generic sense of the lovers being chewed up by the larger machine. The imagery is one of gears and mechanical constructs, and Romeo’s opening dream – or is it Juliet’s? – sees both of them menaced and barricaded by giant gears.

It’s a clever conceit, though I felt it muddied the waters a few times by intermixing an implication of time and clocks. What time, exactly, is conspiring against Romeo and Juliet? The time of their birth? When they met, shortly before Juliet’s father seeks to pair her with poor underused Scott Brown as Paris? Perhaps the point is the mistakes in time leading to their suicides.

You might write this off as my personal quibble; I was reminded again recently of how widely I disagreed with so many others about Lear a few years ago, in no small part because of what I felt was a major dismissal of an important foundation issue. Some textual issues stick in my craw and this seems to be one. It is lovely dance and good theater, mind you, it just happens to miss some things that are important to me for Romeo and Juliet. This play, by any other name, might have smelled sweeter for me.

Synetic Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet runs now through December 23, located at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA. Closest Metro stop: Crystal City (Yellow/Blue lines). For more information call 1-800-494-8497.

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


2 thoughts on “We Love Arts: Synetic’s Romeo and Juliet

  1. I went to see the Fellini inspired take on King Lear and was quite skeptical if it could be pulled off without dialogue. Both myself and my date absolutely loved it and thought it was some of the best theater we had seen in DC in the past decade. I will definitely be scooping up some tickets for this one after such a great performance last time.

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