Arlington’s Synetic Theater, showered with superlatives for its moody goth fantasias and wordless “Silent Shakespeare” series, is tentatively emerging from its comfort zone in concluding its 2013/14 season with a new trick: A chatty adaptation of Victorian humorist Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (To say nothing of the Dog).
The result is a pleasant entertainment, amusing but forgettable.
A popular tale across the pond, Jerome’s comic account of misadventure has three gainfully slothful though highly excitable lads and their plucky canine companion engage in a meander upon the Thames that unravels into a bit of predictable chaos.
Set at the close of the nineteenth century, the three well-to-do idlers—Jerome, our guide, George, the oafish bankman, and the peevish Harris, for whom “there is no poetry, no wild yearning for the unattainable”—embark upon a curative holiday for their ailments of the sedentary, complete with straw hats, loud blazers and a tin of cold English beef.
For the benefit of the audience, events on the river go awry; touched by the capricious hand of Mother Nature and unscreened from the untidy vagaries of the real world, our boaters conclude that they are better off within their gilded confines.
The pretensions and hypocrisy of the upper classes are poked fun at, but gently, with charm and wit, reminiscent of the work of P.G. Wodehouse. Imagine the flow of the play as a series of anecdotal sketches: some of my favorite funny moments being Jerome’s nightmare of forgetting to pack his toothbrush; his disquisition on the unreliable nature of weather forecasts; the discovery that the lads forgot to bring the mustard to dress that cold beef; the subsequent discovery that they also forgot to bring a can opener; and a whole slew of urbane non-sequiturs.
As detractions, the purple shift in tone late in the play when the chaps ponder on a young lady’s corpse floating by feels out-of-sync, and the rushed return trip plays like an afterthought.
THREE MEN IN A BOAT (To say nothing of the Dog)
Closes June 8, 2014
1800 S. Bell Street
1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $50 – $55
Wednesdays thru Sundays
The casting is inspired, especially Tom Story, who as Jerome serves as narrator, has the lion’s share of the lines and more or less controls his performance, and Tim Getman, who plays George large but with a superb comic characterization that sets himself apart.
Story, Getman and Rob Jansen tackle the script with brio and keep the audience engaged through their display of energetic physical comedy.
Director Derek Goldman, who wrote the script adapting the original novella, worked with gifted Synetic choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili to choreograph the show’s considerable movement; you see, the guys go up and down the river experiencing a variety of mishaps all while sitting on their parlor furniture, arranged this way and that. And it works beautifully.
The collaboration between the actors, Tsikurishvili’s movement direction, the elaborate use of props, and the wonderfully evocative scenic, lighting, sound and projections design transport the Crystal City space and the stage-gazers held within alongside our trio, through the bulrushes, in a cold rain, under a starry sky.
And what of the dog? Well, I truly saved the best for last. Synetic shape-shifter Alex Mills is conspicuously delightful as the fourth companion on this voyage: the noble fox terrier Montmorency. Mills incredibly becomes Montmorency so ably it’s no stretch at all to visualize the terrier participating in the action. Some past productions of this show actually eliminated the role, but having a talent like Mills in your stable makes realizing the dog a no-brainer and allows Synetic to show off what it does best.
That all being said, there’s not very much buttressing this restrained tale of spiffing toffs taking a holiday, which goes on for at least 20 minutes past its expiration mark. But it’s good-humored and fun, and not a bad way to spend the evening in support of area theater.
Three Men in a Boat (To say nothing of the Dog), written and directed by Derek Goldman. Based on the novella by Jerome K. Jerome. Featuring Tim Getman, Rob Jansen, Alex Mills and Tom Story. Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili. Scenic design by Lisi Stoessel. Costume design by Ivania Stack. Lighting design by Brittany Diliberto. Projections design by Shane O’Loughlin. Sound design by Thomas Sowers. Music directed by Joshua Morgan. Produced by Synetic Theater. Reviewed by Roy Maurer.
Lisa Troshinsky . Washington Diplomat
Jordan Wright . Alexandria Times
Rebecca Ritzel . City Paper
Jane Horwitz . Washingtonian
Celia Wren . Washington Post
David Siegel . ShowBizRadio
Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway
Benjamin Tomchik . BroadwayWorld
Robert Michael Oliver . DCMetroTheaterArts
Tina Ghandchilar . MDTheatreGuide