Synetic Theater King LearBy Joe Adcock • Mar 28th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington DC
Through April 24th
1:35 with no intermission
$40-$55, discounts for students, seniors, military and groups
Reviewed March 27th, 2011
Come to think of it, the story of King Lear really is kind of ludicrous — especially when it’s stripped of its mollifying swaths of gorgeous poetry.
Synetic Theater’s seventh Silent Shakespeare venture presents Lear totally denuded of ornate verbal shock absorbers. We get, unfiltered, the horrible father/child relationships, the horrible sibling relationships, the horrible politics and the horrible atrocities. Yes, we witness how Regan, the more savage of Lear’s two daughters, uses a dagger to pry out the eyes of Lear’s friend Gloucester.
Added to the standard array of a misery we get manic cocaine abuse, mindless homophobia and malicious tattling. Lear’s one good child is involved in a homosexual relationship. For Synetic purposes, this child, originally Cordelia, a woman, is now Cordelio, a man. When Lear hears from his tattling daughters about his son’s boyfriend he goes bonkers.
Thus Cordelio is out of the way — that’s one less impediment to the sisters’ vile schemes.
Meanwhile Gloucester’s evil son Edmund is slandering his virtuous brother Edgar. So Gloucester goes bonkers, too. Both Gloucester and Lear — sad, addled old men — are thus left at the mercy of their merciless evil children.
But enough about the ludicrous story. As is characteristic of Synetic shows, style here far outweighs content. Director PaataTsikurishvili gives the action a rich visual patina reminiscent of Marcel Marceau mime, Italian commedia dell’ arte stylization and Central European expressionistic grotesquerie. The beautifully executed choreography (devised by Irina Tsikurishvili) ranges from tango to disco. The hyper-athletic fight choreography (by Ben Cunis) is always virtuosic and sometimes scary. Both as dancers and fighters, the powerful Synetic performers literally throw themselves into their work.
The Synetic silent Shakespeare treatment is only silent in a verbal sense. There are plenty of thuds, explosions, grunts and screams. Even more notable is the musical sound track composed by Konstantine Lortkipanidze — very swoopy, swerving back forth between gentle, tender sentiment and violent, harsh pandemonium. In between there are lots of variations on sinister foreboding.
Lighting by Andrew Griffin gives extra stricken nuances to Phil Charlwood’s desert sand and battered buildings scenery.
The actors also do their bit where stricken and battered are concerned. Expressing various forms of frantic struggle and impending doom are Irakli Kavsadze as Lear, Hector Reynoso as Gloucester and Ira Koval and Irina Tsikurishvili as Lear’s sociopathic daughters. Chris Donolfo is Lear’s maligned son. Gloucester’s sons are played by Ben Cunis (noble and brave) and Philip Fletcher (underhanded and wicked).
Sometimes director Tsikurishvili lets his high concept stylizations get out of hand. The actor in white face and a classic domino outfit (baggy white shirt with pompoms down the front, plus baggy white pants) is a faithful allusion to the rueful air of classic mime. Her bouquet of colored balloons evokes hopeless innocence especially since the balloons are accessorized with strings that end in nooses. The knowing references to French world-weariness are impressive but strictly ornamental.
King Lear, is a complex, daunting play, with or without words. It contains a web of characters and relationships, and at the center is the lone, titanic figure who gives the play its title. But at its heart, it is the story of a foolish king ruling over a grotesque, absurd world of fools-a man blinded by selfishness who finally finds his humanity and only sees the truth as the madness is stripped away.
As I approach our seventh “Silent Shakespeare” production, I searched for a new expression through which I could tell the story of this foolish king. As we went through the adaptation process, we found ourselves remarking on the absurdity of the play: the ease with which characters are duped, betrayed and manipulated is almost laughable; if the play ended happily, it could be considered a black comedy. Thus, we are presenting our King Lear as a tragic farce.
I was inspired by the work of Federico Fellini and his use of clowns to color an absurd world. What better way to bring to life the madness of Lear than to set it in a world of th ridiculous: a world in which everyone is a clown and those we call fools merely point out our own folly? It is a biting commentary on modern society – a collapsed world overrun by ambition and greed, helmed by corrupt leaders, in which th truth is often obscured and discovered all too late.
However, King Lear is also family drama. In addition to the fundamental tensions between parents and their children, I wanted to explore real-world issues of gender and sexuality in the context of the family. By switching Cordelia’s gender to a male, I am able to parallel the treatment of Cordelia and Edgar by their fathers. Lear and Glouchester each fail to recognize the selfless love and loyalty of his favored son and succumb to the duplicity of the more selfish offspring.
I would once again like to thank Michael Khan for welcoming Synetic back to the Lansburgh this season, for not just one production, but for two, having recently completed an acclaimed run of The Master and Margarita this past winter. This alliance has been very successful, and we hope to bring many more exciting productions to the District and to STC audiences.
As always, many thanks to my actors and design team for their extraordinary dedication, patience and skill in making this production possible, as well to our audiences, donors, volunteers, staff and the Washington DC, theater community as a whole for their ongoing generosity, encouragement and support.
We have had many extraordinary successes this season, including being selected as one of 10 theaters to receive the 2010 National Theatre Company Grant from the American Theatre Wing, Founder of the Tony Awards®, for nurturing a community of artists that strengthen and demonstrate th quality, diversity, and dynamism of the American theater, and most recently, for being nominated for an incredible 14 Helen Hayes Awards. So, sit back, enjoy the performance and experience the best in American physical theater!
Photos by Graeme B. Shaw.
- King Lear: Irakli Kavasadze
- Goneril: ira Koval
- Regan: Irina Tsikurishvili
- Cordelio: Chris Dinolfo
- Glouscester: Hector Reynoso
- Edgar: Ben Cunis
- Edmund: Philip Fletcher
- The King of France: Greg Anderson
- Fool: Mirenka Cechova
- Duke of Albany: Chris Galindo
- Death: Renata Loman
- Kent: Peter Pereyra
- Servant: Dallas Tolentino
- Duke of Cornwall: Ryan Tumulty
- Oswald: Matthew Ward
- Cordelio Understudy: Austin Johnson
- Regan Understudy: Lauren Kieler
- Goneril Understudy: Brynn Tucker
- Paata Tsikurishvili: Director
- Irina Tsikurishvili: Choreographer
- Lighting Design: Andrew Griffin
- Costumes: Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili
- Set Design: Phil Charlwood
- Original Music: Konstantine Lortkipanidze
- Sound Design: Irakli Kavsadze and Konstantine Lortkipanidze
- Stage Manager: Erin Baxter
- Fight Choreographer: Ben Cunis
- Assistant Costume Designer: Corey Searles
- Assistant Lighting Designer: Brittany Diliberto
- Assistant Stage Manager: Jonathan Carrington
- Stage Management intern: Jessica Willoughby
- Photographer/Graphic Designer: Graeme B. Shaw
- Videographer: Clint Herring
- Technical Director: Phil Charlwood
- Production Manager: Valerie Halstead
- Costume Construction: Anna Blanchard
- Costume Construction: Alison Graham
- Costume Construction: Azura Hassan
- Costume Construction: Justin Sosebee
- Additional Music by: Giya Kanchell
Disclaimer: Synetic Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/6345.
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.