Synetic Theater The Taming of the ShrewBy Genie Baskir • Apr 4th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington DC
Through April 22nd
Reviewed Apri 1st, 2012
Paata Tsikurishvili strips the highbrows of their pretense with his Silent Shakespeare series. The Taming of the Shrew is the eighth play in this series which re-imagines Shakespeare as a universe of color and dance and mime. There is no poetical verse or post medieval speech to negotiate in order to understand history because there is no speech at all.
The playbill is an ordinary sort of booklet with a spare recounting of Shakespeare’s time-worn story of a disobedient and angry woman; a description one might find in the “TV Guide.” Then the show opened to a fiesta of color and a physical comedy of such visual delight that your reviewer forgot that she objects to the story on principle as misogynistic and oppressive. Your reviewer likes her anger and considers her insubordination one of her better qualities.
The Taming of the Shrew is set in modern-day Paduawood. Baptista is now a hot fashion designer with two marriageable daughters, Katherine and Bianca. The family are hounded by paparazzi and fans blinding the girls and obstructing their movement while the father basks in his celebrity. This is where the story breaks down because in our modern times only Rick Santorum would deny the younger and even-tempered Bianca love and matrimony because there is no suitor and marriage for the older, bad-tempered Katherine who must go first into that anachronistic arrangement. So Baptista must put up $20 million in a sweepstake to buy a husband for Katherine because he wants her off his hands. The winner is Petruchio who collects his giant Publisher’s Clearing House check and drags Katherine off on his racy motorcycle. He tames her with a comic series of reverse psychological events, so that Katherine is obedient, comes to love Petruchio and Bianca gets to marry the man of her dreams who happens to be dressed as a woman.
No amount of contemporary jokes and props….including an Etch a Sketch, asthma inhaler and reality show conflicts, not to mention the obligatory rubber chicken…. can save this story from the obvious. It is old and no longer legitimate except for some sort of historical or sociological study of earlier times best described as a Hobbesian veil of tears. This is an attempt at a modern reworking of a tale that has not otherwise weathered the ages.
So, let’s discard this story and revel in the sensual delights. Does the absolute tyranny of Dzhugashvili beget the liberation of Tsikurishvili? Yes, it does. In his hands the theatre is no longer a temple. It is a souk, an exotic Kartuli market of color and sound and movement as warm as a Tbilisi summer. Tsikurishvili liberates us from the burden of translating antiquated English and captivates us with Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s enchanting score. The dance and the mime were superb, almost circus like and the skill of the performers breathtaking. It is hard to review the acting skills when there is no traditional acting being done. So I won’t. Color and sound dominate and mesmerize. The mime was comic and so expressive that the story proceeded with no spoken language. Irina Tsikurishvili as Katherine was so facially expressive that the comedy advanced as she negotiated her wedding banquet and wedding night with her Petruchio, played with wit and some restraint by Ryan Sellers. This show is dominated by physical comedy and everyone in this cast up to the task. The dance is energizing and the mime childlike and sophisticated at the same time. The entire cast and crew have sold a story that shouldn’t be bought.
Anastasia Rurikov Simes’ complete art direction and Colin K. Bills lighting design hypnotically combined with the score to make 90 minutes seem like 90 seconds. Irakli Kavsadze fully understands how a sound design can engage an audience and the memory of this night is still thrilling. Simes and Bills and Lortkipanidze and Kavsadze have created an opera sans vocals with stunning visuals and arresting sound. Scene changes were seamless and hidden in plain sight via Irina Tsikurishvili’s bewitching choreography. Your reviewer’s main quibble with this show is that some aspects of production put this gorgeous show out of the realm of younger playgoers who need relief from the intellectual pedantry that is contemporary English instruction.
Synetic Theatre does not cater to traditionalists. The hoity and the toity parsing Shakespearean verse and ruminating over comma placement have no place to exercise any linguistic despotism here. There are no commas and no verse to decipher. The language of dance and mine is universal and this company has made theatre something worth paying for again.
Romantic comedy is not about effortless love; instead it is complicated and tumultuous until suddenly, almost unexpectedly, it resolves into something that is beautiful and harmonious. Two people are thrown into a storm of emotional and physical trials until that magic moment. It could be a look deep into each other’s eyes, the graceful way she moves with innocent seduction while doing even the most mundane tasks, or the way paint rolls down his arms seconds before his hands caress a blank canvas. In that instant with hearts pounding, they involuntarily surrender to an intense connection supplanted deep within.
Like all of Shakespeare’s comedies, The Taming of the Shrew is not based on lightness but built on a framework of darker human characteristics. This framework does not make it an easy play, and it occasionally requires the characters to interact and treat each other in cruel, manipulative ways. However, that doesn’t mean it is not a joyous raucous piece of theater and it is this interplay of joy and darkness that drew me to The Taming of the Shrew as the perfect selection for the next show in Synetic’s Silent Shakespeare series.
The Taming of the Shrew addresses heavy topics of marital traditions, archaic gender roles and social status. This is territory where Synetic excels; our process is adept at taking archetypes and translating it into striking visual language. Setting the play within a Hollywood-style context is our way of giving the production a timelier feel. Obsessions with fame, glamour, and reputation have never been more on display than in this modern age of tabloids, twitter and TMZ — a world full of people in need of real love who struggle to see past their own egos. It is a dark world indeed where it is generally expected that private life is never actually private. Shrew asks: is it possible for a relationship, so public and founded on deceit, to transform into true love? Answering this is where comedy comes alive — it doesn’t tell us that everything is great, or that life is easy, it tells us that past disillusionment, past disappointment, past our failings and our selfishness, love is still possible.
As always, I thank my actors and staff for their extraordinary dedication, patience, and skill in making each and every production possible, as well as to our audiences, donors, volunteers and the Washington, DC, theater community as a whole for their continued generosity, encouragement, and support.
Photos by Johnny Shryock
- Katherine: Irina Tsikurishvili
- Petruchio: Ryan Sellers
- Bianca: Irina Kavsadze
- Baptista: Hector Reynosa
- Lucentio: Scott Brown
- Hortensio: Vato Tsikurishvili
- Gremio: Philip Fletcher
- Widow: Renata Veberyte Loman
- Grumio: Alex Mills
- Tranio: Dallas Tolentino
- Tailor/ Ensemble: Chris Galindo
- Model/Ensemble: Katherine Frattini
- Director: Paata Tsikurishvili
- Asst. Director: Irakli Kavsadzr
- Stage Manager: Erin Baxter
- Choreographer: Irina Tsikurishvili
- Music Director: Konstantin Lortkipanidze
- Technical Director: Phil Charlwood
- Set Design: Anastasia Rurikov Simes
- Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills
- Sound Design: Irakli Kavsadze:
- Costumes Design: Anastasia Rurikov Simes
- Properties Design: Anastasia Rurikov Simes
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/7855.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.