Synetic Theater Antony and CleopatraBy Joe Adcock • Feb 2nd, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington D.C.
Through February 28th
75 minutes, no intermission
$40-$55, discounts for students, seniors, military and groups
Reviewed January 30, 2010
If there were such a thing as an opera without singing, Synetic Theater’s Antony and Cleopatra would be it. The show has operatic assets — and liabilities.
As with grand opera, the virtuosity is phenomenal. As with soap opera, the story is emotionally overwrought. Synetic’s excellent performers combine fantastic dance, gymnastic, acrobatic and mime skills. Add to that sensational costumes, lighting, sound and scenery. All this virtuosity not withstanding, expression outstrips feeling.
The actors throw themselves around — conniving, fighting, flirting, having sex and dying (lots and lots of dying.) It’s all very skillful, but not very emotionally engaging.
The stage effects include intricate fight choreography by Ben Cunis. During densely woven sword battles, the weapons actually throw off sparks. The musical underscoring (Konstantine Lortkipanidze) stuns, caresses and does everything in between. Set (Anastasia Rurikov Simes) and lighting (Colin K. Bills) help tell the story. When Antony and Octavian haggle over who should rule, they break the imperial throne in half, the Roman half for Octavian, the Egyptian half for Antony. As befits this tale of stark, dark deeds, the lighting is high-definition: lots of murky shadows offset by blazing moments.
Director/adapter Paata Tsikurishvili more or less follows William Shakespeare’s 1607 drama Antony and Cleopatra. He includes a smidgen from an earlier play by Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, to show how Rome perpetrated an unfriendly takeover of the Egyptian empire. Tsikurishvili’s show is a swirling mix of romance and tragedy, raw violence and ornate artistry. Lust is central — for riches, for power and for thrilling flesh. Tsikurishvili’s inspired directorial touches include a Roman orgy in which swords represent penises during a dance melee.
There is no dialog, no speaking at all. Synetic’s signature aesthetic is theater without words but with lots of action.
Antony, a Roman warrior/politician, would like to replace the assassinated Julius Caesar. So would Octavian, another warrior/politician. Octavian excels at machination and manipulation. Antony is more your action/adventure hero, the sort of guy Sylvester Stallone used to play except that Antony is an aristocrat. As Antony, Ben Cunis is all sweat, muscle and passion. As Octavian, Philip Fletcher stays cool and calculating. Except when he is hot and calculating, as in a wild sex and violence scene in which, with the help of a giant rag doll, he portrays Cleopatra as an extremely versatile whore and Antony as an insatiable client.
In this adaptation, Cleopatra (the character, not the rag doll) comes across as a ruthless schemer capable of murder. But her main weapon is sexual seduction. Irina Tsikurishvili plays Cleopatra as a slutty femme fatale, slutty in a haughty aristocratic way, that is. She seduces Antony. But then he comes un-seduced. In a politically motivated pairing, he marries Octavia, Octavian’s sister. Eventually Antony is re-seduced. The result is banal misfortune inflated to bombastic grand opera proportions.
Cleopatra’s world is symbolized by her servant Mardian. In this role, the infinitely flexible Alex Mills slithers and undulates and does whatever it takes to lure victims into unwholesome life choices.
The 18-member Synetic cast is formidable. Their artistry is well suited to romantic comedy, as in last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream It doesn’t work so well for romantic tragedy. Physical theater can handle clowning and capers better than do rapture and wrath.
I must say this, however, about the Synetic performers tragic chops: they are excellent at playing dead. Many an actor will do a strenuous death scene and then lie there on the stage with his or her abdomen and chest expanding and contracting in the liveliest of manners. When the Synetic actors die they somehow manage of control their diaphragms. Their torsos don’t expand and contract post mortem. It’s very impressive.
Photos by Graeme B. Shaw for Synetic Theater
Synetic Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. Also, ShowBizRadio editor Michael Clark worked as a paid member of the load-in crew.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/4694.
Joe Adcock 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.