Irakli Kavsadze in Synetic Theater's production of King Lear. Photo credit: Graeme B. Shaw.
There’s a point in the life cycle of a theater company when its style is well-established and admired. Audiences get it, enamored of the new elements that it brings to the city’s art scene. Awards are achieved, a new home is granted. That’s the tipping point, when its time for the critic to stop focusing so much on the uniqueness of the company’s innovation, and for the artists to start thinking about the next direction. In other words – let’s stop looking at the dress, and examine the body underneath.
I am at that point with Synetic Theater, a company I dearly love, and whose success I feel strongly about. But after seeing King Lear, I wonder if it’s time to pause the still well-deserved accolades for their physical style, and highlight where they could use some growth.
It isn’t quite a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes yet. Certainly there’s a ravishingly sick beauty to this production, with its Fellini meets Tim Burton inspiration, and the usual haunting images and moments of physical power we’ve come to expect and indeed demand from Synetic. But, it’s just that – usual. Now that this style is the baseline expectation for Synetic, and because we expect that level of brilliance in the conceptual presentation, the holes with plot interpretation are starting to show.
And with next season full of repeats of popular productions past before debuting a winter program called New Movements: New Directors, New Voices, I wonder if the company itself is beginning to feel its time to take stock.
Paata Tsikurishvili, Irina Tsikurishvili, Sara Taurchini and Katherine Frattini in Synetic Theater's "The Master and Margarita." Photo credit: Graeme B. Shaw.
Synetic Theater is following up on their muscular rendition of King Arthur with something a bit more cerebral. Actually, a lot more cerebral, with not one but two men losing their heads onstage. Joking aside, it’s hard for me to know how to judge The Master and Margarita, playing through December 12 at the Lansburgh Theatre. As the company revisits its 2004 production of the Mikhail Bulgakov novel with a new adaptation by Roland Reed, all the usual elements we’ve come to expect and love from Synetic are in full force – extremely beautiful design, powerful physical visuals, and dramatic intensity. Putting these talents at the service of a densely intellectual story, mostly unfamiliar to American audiences, is the kind of risky undertaking I certainly admire. Yet somehow, I felt like I was watching a diamond – exquisite, but cold.
In his director’s notes, Paata Tsikurishvili says “we have chosen to embrace the absurdist elements of his story and highlight the Master’s (and Bulgakov’s) own artistic and religious struggle.” Esoteric struggles work in literary terms – but do they translate well to physical action and is the audience able to connect?
On the surface we have ninety minutes of stunning production visuals, especially the work of Anastasia Rurikov Simes, whose set and costumes are an eerie evocation of a surreal Soviet Union – like watching propaganda posters come to life through the prism of The Red Shoes. Continue reading