by William Shakespeare Adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili
Produced by Synetic Theater
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
(l to r) Armand Sindoni, Mike Way, Niki Jacobsen and Courtney Pauroso as Ensemble and Irina Tsikurishvili as Lady Macbeth. (Photo: Raymond Gniewek)
Get the next generation hooked on the ecstasy of live performance. Take them to Synetic Theater’s 90 minute Macbeth that just opened at The Rosslyn Spectrum. This company of performing artists blends dance, pantomime, music and message so vigorously, Hell rises to a new level. That’s not a negative comment. The Synetic brings to life a vision of what’s happening in today’s real world. Only the Synetic productions can make such a descent so exquisitely enjoyable.
The set, designed by Anastasia Ryurikov Simes, is militaristic: Rusted iron-plates, riveted together, border the proscenium; a draw-bridge on chains invite us into a military fortress, dominated by a steel-gray throne. Three white-robed figures face the audience and lift a silver and blue globe of the earth. One, a priest, wears a mitre cap, marked with a cross. Another, a rabbi, wearing a prayer shawl, bows repeatedly. The third, an Islamic mullah, is crowned with a turban. Three witches rise from under pot hole lids and wrest the mitre, the prayer shawl and turban away from the three religious figures. The forces of evil triumph. Is the message a warning or a prophecy?
Welcome to Synetic’s kinetic world of Macbeth, adapted from Shakespeare by Nathan Weinberger, directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili, a three time Helen Hayes Award winner.
When the full company emerges, like troops of dancing fiends in the two scenes when the armies march, it’s militarism incarnate. Two hulking figures use flashlight beams as weapons and act out search and destroy maneuvers. Dancers in formation execute precision leaps and kicks and imitate goosestep marching. The performers mime the firing of rifles and stabbing with bayonets. The military salute, a gesture of respect, is directed like the downward thrust of a sword. The gesture is repeated as a motif to violence, as if history repeats itself. Chaos reigns. The relevance to the modern world is chilling; the theatrical performance is electrifying.
As in their 2006 production of The Dybbuk, the Tsikurishvilis seem drawn to dramas where worlds of the unreal and the real conflict. But in Macbeth, the plot is confusing. Even if you know Shakespeare’s tale by heart, you’ll need the program synopsis as a guide. It’s enough to know that Macbeth, intoxicated by victory, is taken in by the witches’ prophesy that he will be King of Scotland. Together, with an equally ambitious and impatient Lady Macbeth, they murder Duncan, the king, as he sleeps as a guest in their castle. Guilt drives Macbeth to more murders in a cover-up. Suspicion and fear drive him to slaughter Macduff’s wife and daughter. Macbeth believes the witch’s forecast that he cannot be killed “by man born of woman.” But overwhelmed by remorse, Lady Macbeth commits suicide. Avenging armies restore natural order. Ultimately, Macbeth is slain in combat by Macduff, who was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.”
Synetic’s production lifts themes and motifs from the plot and exalts them into compelling, theatrical images. At one point, I gave up on following the program notes and just absorbed the action.
Props are used in surprising ways. Enter Lady Macbeth (Irina Tsikurishvili) who first appears in long, blood-red gloves, to launch her own insurrection. As Lady Macbeth toasts her husband (Irakli Kavsadze) and dances grotesquely with him, she infuses her ambition into him.
Her demonic dance to a dissonant tango pulsates with sensual enjoyment. With slithering gestures, Lady Macbeth caresses and encircles the globe of the world; then raises the sphere, like a crown, over Macbeth’s head. She, like the witches, takes possession of his soul. Lust for power consolidates with ambition.
Even without Lady Macbeth’s familiar soliloquy “Screw your courage to the sticking place,” murderous intentions are clear. There are humorous touches as the music changes rhythmically to simulate the porter’s door knocking scene or the pulse beat of a heart.. Lady Macbeth draws daggers from her boot. To hypnotic drum beats, she drugs her guests so Macbeth can stab King Duncan in his sleep. The Porter (Courtney Pauroso), in a mindless stupor, stumbles over other drugged bodies of courtiers and guards, a moment of well-timed, comic relief.
Georgian composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze is a master at adapting music to live drama. The lighting design by Colin K. Bills is equally supportive. When Macduff’s family is murdered, the victims scream through synthesized music. During Duncan’s funeral procession, an ironically giddy mood of triumphant evil prevails. ‘Amazing Grace’ on the Scottish bagpipe has never sounded as soul-stirring as the hymn crescendos in dazzling, white light, that snaps our awareness to wide-awake. Order has been violated, I’m thinking. When the pale blue and gold flag, that drapes Duncan’s body, is raised like a curtain, then lowered, the new king, Macbeth, in black uniform crowned with a crown of bullets, is seated on the throne. The bagpipes fade, giving way to bass string dissonance and eerie sound effects. The triumph of evil is blood-chilling, in your face theatricality.
Irina Tsikurishvili as Lady Macbeth and Irakli Kavsadze as Macbeth (Photo: Raymond Gniewek)
Triumph is short lived. Murder begets murder and leads to suspicion and betrayal. Dancers leer wide-eyed, in a state of unnatural wakefulness. Loyal friends are on Macbeth’s hit list. Hired assassins murder Banquo, who suspects Macbeth. A mood of grotesque humor takes over. Eventually, Macbeth’s psychological decline escalates, as the couple struggle to cover their guilt. Lady Macbeth twists and contorts in red fabric. As remorse grips her, she rubs her hands as if covered with blood. You can sense the blood. The “screw your courage to the sticking-place” soliloquy is made concrete. In an unexpected moment, Macbeth screws his head to the crown, which has fallen to the floor. He crawls like a tarantula and grovels to the crown. It’s this inventive physicality that keeps you in a state of suspended astonishment.
Even the famous sleep-walking scene, where Lady Macbeth personifies the agony of remorse, seems fresh. Duncan was murdered in his sleep. Eventually sleep is impossible as even sleep is murdered. The images are compelling and suggestive of Shakespeare’s text, “Out, out, damned spot.” Here Irina Tsikurishvili uses traditional folk dance from her native Georgia. At one point, she’s a whirling dervish in white, a haggard ghost of her former self. Balanced on her haunches, she rocks back and forth, the symbolic motion of entrapment and futility.
The only language I missed was the “Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow creeps the petty pace” Macbeth’s haunting soliloquy, expressing the meaningless of life, the futility of his violence, but the last image will linger long in my mind. When Lady Macbeth blows out the candle she holds over the globe, it’s as if she’s extinguishing light in the world. Or does the welcome darkness ironically promise an end to ruthless power?
Performances of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, continue through Feb.25, 2007, at the Rosslyn Spectrum, 1611 N. Kent St., Arlington, VA 22209. Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. Tickets: $30-$35; $25 students and seniors; $15 student rush ticket at the door only. Special $10 days: Jan. 18, 21, 25. Feb. 1: Silent Passion Night, tickets $45 includes reception, performance and silent auction. For information call the Box Office: 703-824-8060; on-line: http://www.synetictheater.org/