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Synetic Theater A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By • Jun 7th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Synetic Theater
Kennedy Center Family Theater, Washington DC
$40-$45
Playing through June 14th
Reviewed June 6, 2009

One good thing about Shakespeare is his use of language. That’s also a bad thing about Shakespeare. If people are anti-Shakespeare, it is often because they are uncomfortable with his 16th Century vocabulary and rhetoric.

OK. Problem solved. Those who dislike Shakespeare and also those who love him can agree that the current Synetic Theater production of the 1595 romantic fantasy/comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream is wonderful. Literally. The show is full of wonders.

Alex Mills as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.First off, this Dream is produced without words — without spoken dialogue. The fanciful relationships and story line are all there. But they are communicated through Synetic’s amazing and unique skills. These skills include acrobatics, dance, mime and canny expressions of character and emotion through body language and facial expression. Shakespeare’s convoluted comedy of errors (and then more errors) comes across fully. And it only takes about 90 minutes, compared to the three hours or so needed for a traditional production.

Example of Synetic’s distinctive virtuosity: Director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurshvili, abetted by composer Konstantine Lortkipandze, have devised for the cast a sort of gavotte/tango that takes place near the beginning of the show. The vaguely sinister music and the performers’ astutely embodied desires and aversions set up the necessary plot tangle. (He loves her, she loves someone else, another woman hankers after the first woman’s fiancĂ©, the first woman’s father has some troublesome attitudes … you get the picture. It’s the stuff of romantic comedy.)

Even earlier in the action there’s a scene that sets in motion a supernatural subplot. All is not well in fairyland. The king and the queen fight over a young serving man. The scene works. But it is overworked. Fight choreographer Ben Cunis‘ flashy battle of the fairy tribes is sensational. But it goes on and on, reaching the point where, whiz bang acrobatics not withstanding, expression seems to exceed feeling. Eventually the action starts to resemble a scene in Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses history plays.

According to Shakespearean actors, you can tell what sort of play you’re in by taking this simple test: If you’re dead at the end, it’s a tragedy. If you’re married, it’s a comedy. Final scene marriages abound in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even goofy Bottom-the-weaver, protagonist of a farcical sub-subplot, is married, or at least hooked up, at the end of this adaptation. Fight choreographer Cunis devised the richly textured scenario.

Bottom, by the way, is played with inspired goofiness by Irakki Kavsadze, who zips back and forth between haughty pretense and lowly slapstick, touching all points in between.

The Synetic cast is excellent. Standouts include Irina Tsikurshvili and Philip Fletcher as the queen and the king of the fairies. They are a piquant mix of scary, sexy and loopy.

Sexy and loopy, but not really scary, are Mirissa Molnar, Roger Payano, Irina Koval and Scott Brown as befuddled young lovers. Their befuddlement maxes out with an exuberant brawl.

Molnar and Koval wear some of costume designer Anastasia Ryurkov Simes‘ most fetching outfits, which include complex undergarments worthy of Victoria’s ill-kept secret.

A hundred years ago, silent movie producers would present wordless adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, performed not by the Hollywood stock company of vaudeville veterans but by classically trained actors. The idea was to give a low-status popular entertainment some high-status appeal. Synetic’s wordless Dream does a switch on that strategy. At times the production is as bawdy and gaudy as a Las Vegas revue. And it even includes little tributes to the film comics of old. The acting style includes glimpses of vintage shtick pioneered by Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and the Marx Brothers.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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