The visual artistry and athletic prowess of Synetic Theater gets kicked up a few notches with King Arthur, which takes place on a watery stage. Normally, the audience gasps at the leaps and balletic contortions executed by the troupe on a wooden stage, but watching them pull off these feats in water is even more astounding.
The water set by Anastasia Rurikov Simes goes beyond a gimmick, although for clarification I would like to point out that it is not just the first two rows of the Crystal City theater that should be designated as the splash zone (audience members these rows get to wear spiffy red rain ponchos with the Synetic logo on the back). I was in the third row and got drenched.
Water serves as a metaphor for the mystical elements rife in the King Arthur legends—notably, the Lady of the Lake bequeathing the sword Excalibur to Arthur, the pools and grottos where Merlin and Morgan receive visions, the lakes and rivers where battles and trysts take place, as well as the isle of Avalon where Arthur resides in death and enshrouded in mystery.
Water is life-giving and sensual, concealing and menacing in Synetic’s ambitious production, which compresses Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Mort D’Arthur and other legends of Camelot into 90 fast-paced minutes. And that’s part of the problem with the adaptation by Paata Tsikurishvili and Ben Cunis, which is a murky mash-up of Celtic myth.
The adaptation plays fast and loose with Arthurian legends, for example, having Arthur’s (Ben Cunis) half-sister, the enchantress Morgan le Fay (Jodi Niehoff) as the slayer of the knight Lancelot (Vato Tsikurishvili), which is troublesome on many levels. Speaking of Lancelot, the noble and gallant knight, has been reborn as a 10th century skinhead—a scowling and menacing figure who is a slashing warrior but not much else.
Where is any sense of Lancelot’s courtliness and his constancy—not only in his allegiance to King Arthur but also in his enduring love for Guinevere (Brynn Tucker). You never get much depth in Lancelot’s feelings for Guinevere, since in this show they exchange a few scorching glances, execute some Titanic-style aerialist moves and boom!—they are rolling around in the rain, granted, an erotic tumbling, yet somehow it shortchanges the romanticism of their union.
In general, King Arthur suffers from this dearth of nobility. You miss the portrayal of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as honorable men dedicated to higher causes. Arthur is shown as a gifted fighter, but you get little sense of his reputation as a philosopher king.
There just seems to be endless rounds of sword fighting and violent bravura, which is exciting to look at but does not offer much in the way of compelling narrative. One guesses it would be difficult to express good government and fairness to all through dance, but still you would have liked some indication of what made Camelot and King Arthur’s reign so special. He and his knights certainly weren’t the first great warriors in history.
The mythical element is also not as strong as it could be, reducing Morgan le Fay to a predatory seductress—she was much more complex—and Merlin (Alex Mills) as a lurker who skulks around Arthur in the shadows instead of being a powerful figure in his own right.
Adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Ben Cunis
Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili
Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili
Produced by Synetic Theater
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
King Arthur plays thru Nov 7, 2010 at Synetic’s new venue, Crystal City in Crystal City, VA.
Click here for details, directions and tickets.