Synetic Theater has been praised for many years by the artistic community for their innovative visual theatre performance style. Combining movement and music and eschewing verbal dialogue to tell a story, their productions are unique and more eclectic than most other theatre happening in the DC area. The first time I saw one of their shows, I was blown away by the beauty, the fluidity, and the outside-the-box artistry. The second production I saw was also dazzling, but reminiscent of the first production I saw. By the time I saw my third Synetic production, I was feeling that as much as I enjoyed and appreciated what they did, they might be a proverbial one-trick pony. This didn’t stop me from seeing their shows, because I have always been impressed by the stunning design and the graceful movement of the company members, but I began to feel like I knew what I would be getting. For me, Synetic Theater was a place where the “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all” adage seemed to apply.
But after seeing Synetic Theater’s production of Twelfth Night, I have to amend my former opinions. I now state with absolution that they are not a one-trick pony and have, once again, blown me away by the beauty and outside-the-box artistry unlike anything I have ever seen.
Synetic’s roaring 1920s interpretation of Shakespeare comedy was the perfect setting for the story. Not only did it allow for a lot of great ragtime music, but it meant that the company’s traditional movement style was mixed with a lot of familiar steps, like the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. For me, this combination of contemporary and classic jazzy movement and music styles kept the show fresh and exciting so it never felt stale or static.
By telling Shakespeare’s story through the lens of the making of a silent film, director Paata Tsikurishvili was able to utilize conventions of that art to further the plot. For example, when the devious members of Olivia’s household are tricking Malvolio (played by Irakli Kavsadze) into believing Olivia (Kathy Gordon) loves him, they do so by stringing together film footage showing her blowing kisses in his direction. By using characters Feste and Fabian (Ben Cunis and Vato Tsikurishvili) as the film’s director and cameraman, director Tsikurishvili also found a seamless way to transition between scenes. He simply has them direct the switching of movie sets, choreographed by the cast gracefully rolling scaffolding and furniture around the stage.
At the forefront of the cast is Synetic co-founder and resident choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili as Viola, the male-disguised Cesario wooing Olivia on behalf of Orsino (Philip Fletcher) who she secretly fancies herself. A phenomenal dancer, Ms. Tsikurishvili proves that she is also an astounding actress with impeccable comic timing and understanding of physical comedy.
One of the reasons I loved this production so much was that it wasn’t just movement and music. The show was rife with physical comedy and clowning. Cunis and Vato Tsikurishvili open the show with a Laurel & Hardy-esque clowning routine as the audience is being seated, and once the house lights dim, Alex Mills as Viola’s twin brother Sebastian continues the clown theme, this time as a commedia dell’arte harlequin. Even the staff of Olivia’s household are clowns, both literal (think red noses, but no oversize shoes) and with their physical antics. All members of the cast, in fact, excel at physical comedy which, combined with their incredible talents of movement and dance, produced a jaw-dropping, side-splitting evening of entertainment.
Twelfth Night is not your typical Synetic Theater show. If you’ve seen one show there, you definitely haven’t seen ‘em all. While it’s every bit as impressive and unique as their shows have proven to be, the combination of their expected elements mixed with familiar music, dance steps, physical comedy and clowning was something completely new and exciting. William Shakespeare himself would be proud.
Twelfth Night performs now through February 16, 2014 at Synetic Theater, located at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. Tickets $20-$75. Closest Metro stop: Crystal City (Yellow line). For more information, call 866-811-4111.