Synetic Theater Hamlet…The Rest is SilenceBy David Siegel • Mar 15th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Synetic Theater: (Info) (Web)
Synetic Theater in Crystal City, VA
Through April 6th
90 minutes without intermission
$35-$65/$5 discount for sniors, military/$15-$20 Students (Plus Fees)
Reviewed March 13th, 2014
The art of silence and physical movement are Synetic Theater’s unique forte. The company is justly acclaimed for the past twelve years of producing classic plays without dialogue. The remounting of its first success, the multi-Helen Hayes Award recipient production, Hamlet…the rest is silence is a jewel. The current production joins the premier at the Church Street Theatre in 2002 and the 2007 revival at the Kennedy Center as an evening to relish for its inventive, non-spoken take on The Bard’s words and rhetoric.
If you have seen the show before, re-acquaint yourself with it; there are major cast changes. If you have never ventured to Synetic’s Crystal City venue, this is one to see.
But first, let’s start before the show began the other evening. In his program notes, director Paata Tsikurishvili wrote that “the image onstage creates a passageway to a new truth, the doorway leading to palpable emotion.” He wants to “engage the audience’s imagination and compel your involvement in the creative process…”
While the Synetic program does not contain a synopsis of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” it does name the 14 scenes that make up the show. For those familiar with Shakespeare’s text the scene names are ones that will bring knowing nods. They are such as “Something is Wrong in the State of Denmark,” “To Be Or Not To Be,” “Get Thee to a Nunnery,” “The Mousetrap,” “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” “Alas, Poor Yorick” and the like.
For those not familiar with the text, reading a synopsis of the source play by William Shakespeare may be helpful, though far from necessary. What is happening on the stage will be evident, no matter what a character’s name or the silence of the actors’ voices. The show is described by Synetic’s marketing folk as “a silent rendering of the iconic tale of a grief-stricken prince torn between duty, love, conscience and fear.” And that is what we see.
The night your reviewer attended the performance, the last speaking before the next 90 minutes, was from Paata Tsikuishvili. He stood before the audience introducing the evening’s press night performance. There was something different about Tsikuishvili this night. He was quieter, almost wistfully introspective. Soon enough it became apparent why. He was handing over some of the keys to a valued piece of his kingdom. Speaking from his heart, Tskurishvili said “Hamlet was my first baby…there is a lot of me in this production.” This time, while he is still the director as in 2002 and 2007, another actor was to play Hamlet. He was like a veteran ball player or maybe in a more DC metaphor, a long-time politician; knowing it was time to leave the limelight, but it still hurt. (Though perhaps other current international events may cast its own pall.)
Then, it was time for the lights to dim and the show to go on.
Hamlet…the rest is silence even without any dialogue heard, but surely felt, remains a story of the impossibility of certainty in life. Who and what is to be trusted is like mercury in one’s hand; far from solid. For Hamlet, decisions are not easily made; there is just so much to think about, with much time wasted on indecision or mistaken actions that lead to any number of deaths. As for love that is right before him, Hamlet knows not how to accept it. All love is tainted. Finally, there is plenty of madness and foolishness, real and feigned.
Multi-Helen Hayes Award recipient Alex Mills is a smooth-faced, youthfully handsome Prince Hamlet. He is no fair-haired actor playing at have a tortured soul after his father’s murder sends him into melancholy. He readily shows his gloom and the pain within himself with facial expressions, tentative actions and twisted upper body movements. Without words he paints his internal turmoil. His physical movements and dance steps are his words. Avenging the death of his father is his goal. His mother’s disloyalty has made him done with love. Mills is plainly lost in a sad world, some of his own making.
Hamlet even pushes away Ophelia (played by the radiant beauty Irina Kaavasdze who later quite capably goes quietly mad with darkened eyes and slumped shoulders) is the woman who loves him. Claudius (Irakli Kavsadze a hulking, stocky, barrel-chested, Putin-like alpha male) has not only taken the throne from Hamlet’s ghost of a father (the long-limbed, soft-featured Philip Fletcher ) but quickly wooed away Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (the ever sinewy, cat-like presence that is Irina Tsikurishivili).
With original music and music credited to Giya Kanchell, Alfred Schmittke, Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler, the audience is pulled into the emotions of the performance. Without knowing a character’s name or hearing a famous quote the audience is readily aware of what is transpiring. Movement choreography devised by Irina Tsikurishvili includes dances such as a sultry tango between Claudius and Gertrude as Hamlet watches in utter dismay, to prancing steps by an entourage of hangers-on as Claudius crowns himself King, to funereal slow flapping of a dozen arms like large birds to give more darkness to death scenes.
Several particular scenes stand out for their clout. These include one between Mills’ Hamlet and Kaavasdze’s Ophelia as they dance with their hands and fingers a breath away from each other; never quite touching, let alone kissing. One can feel the ache from Kaavasdze as she wants to fully engage Mills in love but to no avail. There is but one tiny touch, a sweet movement by Kaavasdze slowly sweeps a finger across Mills’ check over to wipe away a tear. Later there is a scene at Ophelia’s suicide in which Kaavasdze moves through water composed of the ensemble’s moving bodies some of which appear to be lily pads that Monet would marvel at. Another time human bodies become a vessel moving over water that is a striking visual effect.
The key play within-in a play of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a delightful descent into guilt. Featuring Irina Koval as Player Queen and Philip Fletcher as Player King, it is a smash. What starts as a concocted comedic endeavor slowly transforms and struts itself into its real purpose; to “out” those that Hamlet believes killed his father. It is a duet dance initially full of high spirits and silliness. It turns into heated sensuality to shame and unmask the guilty. Koval is one sassy, saucy, teasing enchantress. But what makes the scene so effective is to glance behind the cavorting dancers to see the slow fuming of Claudius and Gertrude as they begin to understand what the dancing is about…them.
A technical design element that becomes doorways, windows, caskets, boats and mirrors into the soul are a number of movable ladder-like objects. They are about six feet or so in height. Each is held and moved about by the actors producing visual impact and vivid imagery. Costumes are clear as to guilt and innocence. Most everyone wears head-to-toe black. Only the kingly ghost and Ophelia wear white. And Ophelia’s costumes change as she descents into her own Hell, from a shimmering pure head-to-toe pure white to a smudgy, off-white that becomes splotched with grime as her madness overtakes her.
Hamlet…the rest is silence remains a story of the impossibility of certainty in life. Who and what is to be trusted is like mercury in one’s hand. All is far from solid. For Hamlet, decisions are not easily made; there is just so much to think about first, so much time wasted and indecision. As for love set right before him, well his pain makes it impossible to see love. Synetic’s Hamlet…the rest is silence is an achievement to be experienced for the first time, or once again.
Photos by Johnny Shryock
- Hamlet: Alex Mills
- Irina Tsikurishvili: Gertrude
- Claudius: Irakli Kavsadze
- Polonius: Hector Reynoso
- Ophelia: Irina Kaavasdze
- Laertes: Scott Brown
- Ghost/Player King: Philip Fletcher
- Player Queen: Irina Koval
- Ensemble/Priest: Lorne Britt
- Gildenstern: Zana Gankhuyag
- Rosencrantz: Randy Snight
- Gravedigger/Osric: Vato Tsikurishvili
- Ensemble: Janine Baumgardner
- Ensemble: Emily Whiteworth
Production and design team
- Directed and adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili
- Choreography: Irina Tsikurishivili
- Original Set, Props, Costume Design: Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili
- Sound Designer: Iralkli Kavsadze
- Sound Editor: Konstantine Lortkipanidze
- Lighting Design : Brittany Diliberto
- Props Master: Kasey Hendricks
- Costume Coordinator: Claire Cantwell
- Stage Manager: Marley Giggey
- Production Manager: Ann Allan
- Master Electrician: Jesse Sutten
- Sound Engineer: Thomas Sowers
- Technical Director: Phil Charlwood
- Light Board Operator: Justin Janke
- Wardrobe: Emily Price
- Assistant Lighting Designer: Brittany Shemuga
- Assistant Stage Manager: Nate Shelton and Sofia Shultz
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/10226.
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.