Synetic Theater The TempestBy Bob Ashby • Feb 26th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Synetic Theater: (Info) (Web)
Synetic Theater in Crystal City, Arlington, VA
Through March 24th
1:40, without intermission
Reviewed February 24th, 2013
For spectacular, visually arresting technical theater and virtuosic, athletic movement, look no further than Synetic Theater’s production of The Tempest. Based generally on characters and plot elements of Shakespeare’s play of the same name, Synetic’s Tempest offers nonstop action by beautifully trained, and often very beautiful, performers. Like Arena Stage’s Metamorphoses, it is performed largely in water, with all the splash and symbolism that goes with it. Perhaps this is the year of what might be called “immersive theater.”
There is no other local group that so intricately and precisely coordinates action, sound, and visual effects as Synetic. Each of the multitude of complex light cues is timed to coincide with an actor’s movement or gesture and particular sounds in the score, creating stunningly lovely moments that flow into and out of one another seamlessly. Behind the pool, which is the main playing area, Anastasia Simes’ set consists of an ascending rock formation under which there is a cave. Gauzy cloth hangings and curtains are used as screens for projections of sea and rain and more abstract shapes, as well as to frame the stage pictures. A set piece of a piano becomes a fountain, an instrument on which Ariel (Dan Istrate) mimes playing, and a surface that Ferdinand (Scott Brown) is made to scrub repeatedly by Prospero and Ariel.
Some of the costumes are spectacular as well. Ariel wears a silver-colored metallic outfit, coordinated with silver face and body makeup, that would do credit to a high-concept rock group. Sycorax (Victoria Bertocci) and Caliban (Vato Tskiurishvili) wear red body suits, with painted designs. (In a rare misstep, Caliban’s costume includes devil’s horns, inappropriate to a character who, while at times an enemy to Prospero and Miranda, is no devil.) Prospero (Phillip Fletcher) is frequently seen in a costume that parts to display his well-sculpted upper body, an effect emphasized by the lighting when he stands on the upstage rock formation watching the action below. Antonia (Francesca Jandasek) wore an off-the-shoulder blue dress, its attractiveness contrasting with her villainous character. The costumes were successfully designed not only for their look but also to work smoothly even when, as frequently, they were wet.
However insistently Synetic proclaims that its work is “really Shakespeare” (see Director’s Note below; why a company that produces brilliant work in its own unique style thinks it needs to legitimate its output in these terms remains a mystery), the company takes wide, theatrically justifiable, liberties with the underlying Shakespeare material. As in other productions (e.g., Othello), The Tempest begins with a staged backstory, featuring slam-bang fight choreography between Prospero and Sycorax and a sequence in which the relationship between Miranda (a gorgeous Irina Kavsadze) and Caliban transitions rapidly from innocent play to sexual awakening to attempted rape. Roles assigned to men in the Shakespeare are played by women (Antonio becomes Antonia; Trinculo is played by Emily Whitworth). Synetic understandably gives much greater time and emphasis to scenes that lend themselves to the company’s physical and visual approach. The storm that strands Antonia, Ferdinand, and others on the island takes only a page of dialog in my edition of the Shakespeare; in the Synetic version it is the subject of a prolonged and thrilling sequence in which Prospero summons the wind and waves that thrash the unfortunate travelers in the pool.
Fletcher’s Prospero is youthful and physically strong, scarcely aging in the course of the play, in striking contrast to the Prosperos of actors like Christopher Plummer and William Hutt, who, while in their 80s, created power through their command of language and deep experience of life and theater. There are moments when Fletcher shows comparable power in this very different medium, as when he stirs up the storm, but he often appears somewhat detached, observing from afar. The nuances of Prospero’s moral ambiguity seem flattened in the performance. There are lengthy portions of the production in which this Tempest seems more Caliban’s show, or Ariel’s, than Prospero’s. Istrate’s Ariel is frequently the most vivid figure on the stage, as when, for example, trickster-like, he creates music and mischief on the piano.
The production provides occasional bits of humor, often centered on Irakli Kavsadze’s drunken sailor of a Stephano. There are some good bucket moments too, as when Ariel appears prepared to douse splash zone audience members and Ferdinand self-administers a cold shower on seeing an enticing view of Miranda.
There are also moments in the production that have emotional force. Ferdinand and Miranda have a tender love scene. Caliban grieves over his mother’s body. Prospero forgives his enemies and then blesses his daughter’s union with Ferdinand by pouring water over their linked hands. But for much of the production, the constant fast-paced activity and athleticism, and all the attendant technical wizardry, call attention to themselves so strongly that there is scarcely a moment for the audience to contemplate the complex humanity of the characters and decide how to react morally, intellectually, and emotionally. Real Shakespeare does that.
From the screwball comedy of The Taming of the Shrew, one of our most successful Shakespearean productions, we now enter the realm of The Tempest-Shakespeare’s penultimate work and one of his most multifaceted. Rich in love, music, comedy (some of Shakespeare’s funniest), horror, sin, redemption, revenge, mercy, and magic-both black and white-The Tempest is uniquely suited to Synetic’s signature style and vocabulary, which, like the play itself, integrates music, dance, movement and drama to create a distinct and unique whole. In keeping with the transformative qualities of our company, we have chosen to immerse this story in the fluidity and constant motion of its surroundings-that is, in the ocean that surrounds Prospero’s island. For me, water has all the versatility appropriate to Prospero’s story: the potential for hilarious comedy and silliness, combined with sadness, mystery, danger, and most of all, a quality of literal and figurative reflectiveness.
I found it impossible to work on this most recent Shakespearean adaptation without thinking back to our first-Hamlet…the rest is Silence. Specifically, Hamlet’s notes to his actors come to mind, in which he speaks of holding “as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.” Here, in The Tempest, water serves very much the same function. It represents both to us and to Prospero himself his journey over the course of the play-an arc which is very distinct in Prospero’s natural, fluidic movement from a state of vengeful fury to forgiveness, acceptance, and peace-to a state of grace, personified by his daughter Miranda.
Since our first silent production in 2002, I have often been asked, without the language, is what we do “really Shakespeare?” I believe it is. Since Shakespeare has been translated into multiple languages, his words having found multiple expressions and becoming a truly universal institution in the process, we believe the language of movement is a no less valid method of exploring his work than any other. As Shakespeare himself painted with words, we attempt to paint his words with our images, offering an archetypal Shakespeare that we know, as one reviewer put it, “in our bones.”
Having recently reached the end of our first decade, I am reminded of the many actors who have come and gone since Synetic’s first performances, and, most of all, of the actors, company members and audiences who are still with us after all this time. Rather than simply thank them, I would like to take this opportunity to dedicate this production to them-to all members of Synetic Family, onstage and off; past, present, and future. You remain, as ever, my inspiration.
- Prospero: Philip Fletcher
- Miranda: Irinka Kavsadze
- Ariel: Dan Istrate
- Ferdinand: Scott Brown
- Caliban: Vato Tsikurishvili
- King Alonso: Ryan Tumulty
- Antonia: Francesca Jandasek
- Stephano: Irakli Kavsadze
- Trinculo: Emily Whitworth
- Sycorax/Ensemble: Tori Bertucci
- Sebastian/Ensemble: Pasquale Guiducci
- Ensemble: Jace Casey, Katherine Frattini
- Director: Paata Tsikurishvili
- Choreographer: Irina Tsikurishvili
- Fight Choreographer: Ben Cunis
- Composer: Konstantine Lortkipanidze
- Costume/Set Designer: Anastasia Simes
- Design Assistant: Corey Searles Dunn
- Adapted by: Nathan Weinberger
- Lighting Designer: Andrew F. Griffin
- Associate Lighting Designer: Brittany Diliberto
- Projection/Multimedia Designer: Riki Kim
- Production Supervisor: Erin Baxter
- Technical Director: Phil Charlwood
- Stage Manager: Marley Monk
- Master Electrician: Aaron Waxman
- AV Engineer: Thomas Sowers
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/9186.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.