Frankenstein by Synetic Theater
By Juliet Moser
Yes, the monster lurches awkwardly and his skin emits a yellowish glow. No, he doesn’t have bolts in his neck. Dr. Frankenstein’s monster can be seen in the flesh (and the blood, though it be caked on a rather nasty gash circumnavigating his cranium), in Synetic Theater’s “Frankenstein” at the Kennedy Center. The new play, written by Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili, bears Synetic’s signature style of re-telling familiar stories through intense physicality that forces audiences to reexamine their notions of what theatre is and ought to be.
A Synetic show has several tell-tale signs, most notably the choice of dark, preferably macabre stories portrayed with gruesome gusto. “Frankenstein” is no exception, the stark set and sharp lighting thrusting characters clad almost exclusively in black, white, or grey to the forefront of this cautionary tale.
The startling level of detail of the Tsikurishvilis’ work is displayed from the opening sequence when a group of dirty and dusky men materialize from thick, curling fingers of smoke, swaying in and out, rising and falling as if ghosts. Through the faintest suggestion of movement, be it the mimicry of sewing or a carefully controlled walk across the stage, the cast of “Frankenstein” moves as a fluid assemblage to tell Mary Shelley’s 19th-century Gothic tale. While the plot has been simplified (thus allowing a 15-person cast and a running time of 90 minutes), the disturbing issues raised by Shelley’s story remain including uestioning the implications of a scientist playing God.
Victor Frankenstein (the malleable Dan Istrate) – doesn’t worry about such trifles at the outset of the show; as an eager and bright student he travels to a top university to study medicine after swearing his love to Elizabeth (Meghan Grady). An attentive chorus of medical students watching their professor slice open a corpse greets Frankenstein and scoffs at his ideas of “reanimation,” noting that “Life is life. Death is death. These things are absolute.” before returning busily to their notes. But Frankenstein’s teacher (Paata Tsikurishvili) allows the young doctor access to his laboratory and equipment, requiring only a favor in return: “All I ask is that you bear in mind that there can only be one true creator.”
As the Creature, Irakli Kavsadze brings a touching humanity to Frankenstein’s creation, allowing the audience to witness the Creature’s growth from a mewling, seemingly helpless and tottering critter to a scream-inducing, terror-inspiring, neck-snapping beast. Frankenstein’s chef d’ouvre, it seems, was not always so ferocious. Indeed in Shelley’s novel, the monster commits suicide after losing the only family he ever knew. In Synetic’s production, the Creature spends several scenes weeping or expressing confusion over his plight and in the end demands only a companion, someone to keep him company.
While the story is not new, the approach is. Kavsadze embodies the monster in an uncomfortably comfortable way, every devious movement deliberate and proving a powerful stage presence even when lurking in the shadows. From swinging on a hangman’s noose at the start of the show to throwing off attacking villagers later, the Kavsadze makes every gesture count. Istrate plays the title role with ease and style to spare, his slender frame twitching with anxiety and agony. Set and costume designer Anastasia R. Simes weaves a visual representation of dark proportions and lighting director Colin K. Bills uses clean lines to separate the characters based on their relationships to one another in time. “Frankenstein” represents years of hard work by Paata and Irina Tsikurishviili to create a company that cohesively draws together both speech and movement, relying on a core troupe that can move and act. The energy and concentration of this cast demonstrate the importance of Synetic maintaining such a group. The arty, movement-based works and morbid themes may thrill critics but haven’t exactly drawn huge audiences. With productions such as this “Frankenstein” the Tsikurishvilis are paving the way to both critical and commercial successes.
Synetic Theater: Frankenstein Sep 13 – Oct 1, 2006 Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater 2700 F Street NW Washington, DC 20566 Tickets $30 Call: 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 Website