Angela Renée Simpson as Queenie (center, in pink dress) and the company of Show Boat. Photo by Scott Suchman.
The Washington National Opera’s production is a groundbreaking new work that challenges audience with a deep and nuanced examination of the many ways that racial politics and marital tensions intermingle across a complicated economic reality, eventually illuminating complex and crucial truths about –
No, seriously. It’s Showboat, the modern ur-musical, the production that was old when your mom first went to the theater. We’re not at its centennial yet, but we’re closer to the day “Ol’ Man River” turns 100 than we are to the 20th century. I’m sure we’ll see a revival then too. And every other year between now and then.
Which isn’t to say there’s nothing worth seeing here. Washington National Opera’s Showboat is a beautiful creature in every way. It’s well-acted, lovingly staged, and sung, at turns, competently and transcendently. It may not be new or different than any other of the thousands of times it’s been produced, but if you want to see the show that represented a pivot in Broadway musicals then this is as good a chance as any.
Roger Payano as Othello in Synetic Theater's production of "Othello." Photo credit: Graeme B. Shaw
Ambition. Envy. Lust.
This is the triple-headed monster that drives one of Shakespeare’s most explored villians, the manipulative yet seductive Iago whose knowledge of his rivals’ secrets and fears are the keys to a devious plot. His motivation being so multi-faceted and open to different interpretations, he tends to grasp control of a play that is, after all, named for another character. It’s an issue every production has to face – do you focus on the monster or the hero?
Now through July 3 you can witness how effectively Synetic Theater tackles this issue with their take on Othello. It’s their sixth wordless Shakespeare production – I thought they had reached the pinnacle with their last outing, Antony and Cleopatra, but clearly there’s no end to the brilliance of this company when it applies its physical theater style to the Bard. Hyperbole? Head to the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater and judge for yourself.
Here Othello’s polished veneer of self-control masks a deep wound into which Iago writhes like a parasite, whereas Iago’s wound is shown to us right from the start. As they are so entwined, they are equally the focus. This is a production marked by psychic pain so palpable it made me shake. It’s also fast, frenzied and exquisite. Continue reading
Alex Mills as Puck in Synetic Theater's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo credit Raymond Gniewek, courtesy of Synetic.
Blending both breathtaking physical control and hypnotic emotional projection, Synetic Theater is the bright star of the Washington arts scene. Seriously, if anyone ever yaps on and on to you about DC having nothing to offer in the way of brilliant theater, get them to the current production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and dare them to say so afterwards. This is both a beautiful and hysterical night out. For a company known for dark tragedy and breaking hearts, they also prove themselves more than capable of splitting your sides.
Right from the start Synetic puts their signature wordless stamp on a play most of us know well. The fairies are powerful, pagan and exotic. In a perfect twist on the plot, Puck becomes the orphan that Titania and Oberon fight over, instead of it being some nameless child, and that battle is a glorious dangerous display of both the physical and the magical. The thwarted young lovers are discovered drinking away their sorrows with a bottle of Jack. They go from sadly tipsy to athletically audacious on a dime – there are some frighteningly daredevil toss-and-catch fights. The goofy “rude mechanicals” are a hodge-podge of leather and denim. There’s even a delightful nod to the Marx Brothers with a pianist in a Chico hat (and was that a riff from “A Night at the Opera” maybe? brilliant job as always by composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze). Not to mention a hilarious parody of Synetic’s past Shakespeare productions. You have to love a company that can make fun of itself. Continue reading