Synetic Theater Twelfth NightBy David Siegel • Jan 13th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Synetic Theater: (Info) (Web)
Synetic Theater in Crystal City, Arlington, VA
Through February 16th
1:40 without intermission
$35 and Up, Discounts available
Reviewed January 9th, 2013
Continuing its dialogue-free adaptations of Shakespeare, Synetic Theater has taken on Twelfth Night. After all, Twelfth Night is the Shakespeare comedy with rich imagery, comic situations and a multitude of musical references. It is the play with oft quoted phrases such as “If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it.”
The overall flavor and zest of this Twelfth Night, or What You Will, its full title, arrives with the Bard’s line, “Foolery…does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.” It’s roots come from the Twelfth Night celebration of yore when there was music and merrymaking on the night of January 5th; concluding the Christmas season for some.
The production is directed by Synetic co-founder Paata Tsikurishvili with choreography by co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili. It was adapted by Nathan Weinberger, a Synetic veteran. Konstantine Lortkipanidze provided original music and Irakli Kavsadze the music direction.
The folk at Synetic have moved the foolery from its usually moored place and time. It is no longer hundreds of years ago in the Kingdom of Illyria on the Adriatic Sea. The events have been transported to the “roaring,” though quite speech-less, 1920’s. It is a silent movie under development.
Before going into the acting aspects of the production, let us praise the non-stop score and high-spirited movement and dancing. They are highly effective in setting the time, situations, moods and cueing emotions. The music and matching choreography span a multitude of styles from the Charleston, swing, be-bop, acrobatic and even a waltz. All are vibrantly danced to a bold “T” with arms swinging, legs kicking, with knees and hips aflutter, whether in duets or large ensemble pieces.
In this Synetic production there are immediately recognizable music compositions. Examples include the opening, syncopated Scott Joplin “The Entertainer.” Other musical arrivals, in no particular order, a sublime sound similar to Sidney Bechet’s “Si tu vois ma mère,” Duke Ellington’s quick stepping, be-bopping “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” a Fletcher Henderson use of the banjo to provide informal verve and rhythm, along with Jelly Roll Morton’s delightfully fox-trotting jazzy sounds. There are even sweeps of Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz.”
A big dance show-stopping finale celebrates long-awaited weddings. It is a full-tilt, no stopping them, brightly smiling, five minutes of pure, swinging Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” The number totally lit up the dancers led by Irina Tsikurishvili. The audience was bewitched, standing to give loud applause.
The Twelfth Night comedy begins even before the invisible curtain rises. Two silent clowns, Feste (Ben Cunis) and Fabian (Vato Tsikurishvili), go about their business hamming it up with the audience to get them into a playful mood. Their work was akin to an applause sign that blinks telling an audience what to do. Throughout the production they appear as a silent movie cameraman and his assistant who schlep along a camera and use a dolly to move about.
Soon we pay attention to a set design by Phil Charlwood with a wide array of pieces including movable doors and others objects, many on casters. Then we witness a shipwreck with a small model ship, a tank of water and a dozen well-dressed people hurling themselves about in a storm. While a tad overlong, the opening brings us the twins, Viola (the always lithe, expressive Irina Tsikurishvili) and Sebastian (Alex Mills, a wonderfully physical and spiritual doppelgänger to Tsikuishivili). They become separated after the shipwreck; both strangers in a new land.
Believing her brother Sebastian has been lost, Viola finds her way through a journey of unexpected discoveries. She is always resilient; the ultimate survivor. As director Paata Tsikurishvili wrote in his program notes, she is to be “a Little Tramp-like [Charlie Chaplin] figure, searching for love, deeply good and completely indestructible, always ready to face any new adversity –in short, a truly great soul.”
She falls in love with Duke Orsino (the cool, convincing Philip Fletcher) after dressing herself as a man. But she can’t tell him because she is in male disguise. Orsinio, however, is in love with Lady Olivia (Kathy Gordon who slowly loosens up to cavort as a sweet coquette over the course of the show) who rebuffs him and who is infatuated with Viola in her male disguise.
Along the way we meet a bevy of vivid characters including a delightfully cheeky maid (a sultry Irina Kavasdze who knows how to flirt and tease with abandon); the dour, sour, head man-servant Malvolio (a quite sympathetic, forlorn Itrakli Kavsadze) who is in love with Lady Olivia; along with and plenty of other amusing tricksters and madcap malcontents.
Beyond the dancing which is a high point, the production has some lovely poignant scene work using a large, glassless mirror as the twins present their duality, or when Malvolio looks to see his utter humiliation. Evocative costumes by Kendra Rai add plenty of cute sass to the female characters when appropriate. The yellow suspenders wore by Malvolio in his fever dream are the necessary hoot.
There are weaknesses that unmoor the production from its Shakespearean tale, especially for those unfamiliar with the Twelfth Night text. They could find themselves confused. There are video projections that might be expected to help out, acting like title cards in old silent movies. For this reviewer, the title cards had words that seemed faded when projects on the scrim being used, or were sometimes difficult to read when actors were down stage. With so many different scenes, names of characters and wonderful well-known text, better lit title cards would be useful. No need to over explain, but do provide more text to give a deeper immersion into the who and what; just as in silent movies.
Twelfth Night is an ultimately delightful escape. Certainly it meets the mark set by Paata Tsikurishvili in his opening remarks at the press performance your reviewer attended when he called it the “most charming Synetic production to date.” It will be especially enjoyed by those with a keen dance eye, a delight in sampling of spirited music and a desire to just float away without a care.
Synetic’s Twelfth Night is punctuated with an all out assault by dancers with ebullient polish. They want you to just enjoy and marvel at what they can do with their enthusiasm of youth, no matter what their chronological age. Pack up all your cares and woe, just go.
Photos by Koko Lanham
- Ensemble: Janine Baumgardner
- Feste: Ben Cunis
- Orsino: Philip Fletcher
- Ensemble: Zana Gankhuyag
- Olivia: Kathy Gordon
- Ensemble: Rebecca Hausman
- Malvolio: Irakli Kavsadze
- Maria: Irina Kavsadze
- Sebastian: Alex Mills
- Sir Toby Belch: Hector Reynoso
- Ensemble: Randy Snight
- Sir Andrew Aguecheek: Dallas Tolentino
- Viola: Irina Tsikurishvili
- Fabian: Vato Tsikurishvili
- Director/Artistic Director: Paata Tsikurshvili
- Choreographer: Irina Tsikurshvili
- Dramaturg: Nathan Weinberger
- Designer: Colin K. Bills Lighting
- Associate Lighting Designer: Brittany Diliberto
- Costume Designer: Kendra Rai
- Costume Design Assistant: Anna Klinger
- Set Designer: Phil Charlwood
- Composer: Konstantine Lortkipanidze
- Sound Designer: Thomas Sower
- Properties Master: Kasey Hendricks
- Videographer: Igor Scherbakov
- Music Director: Irakli Kavsadze
- Fight Choreographer: Ben Cunis
- Stage Manager: Marley Giggey
- Master Electrician: Jesse Sutten
- Assistant Stage Manager: Mollie Welborn
- Assistant Stage Manager: Sofia Shultz
- Wardrobe Manager: Emily Price
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/10043.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.