Forget the pastoral images of Arden, or the shepherds and royalty you might expect from this play. Synetic’s dance-theatre rendition of As You Like It has all the dark twists and haunted images we’ve come to expect from the underground theatre, and a few turns we might not have foreseen.
The twelfth wordless Shakespeare to come from Synetic – since 2002, when they brought us a much-acclaimed Hamlet – takes liberties with the script above and beyond its lack of dialogue. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili, this As You Like It fuses several styles and influences, calling to mind at times Beyoncé, at times video games, at times the end of human civilization, and at times James Bond.
Look past the mobster-inspired take on the royal court (hardboiled with a twist, of what one can’t be sure) and the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Arden – replete not with blossoming flora but with metal-jawed wolf-people, oil cans, pipes, and, sure, a rat on a stick – and you’ll find an interesting role-reversal. Where traditionally, Rosalind is the strong female character, so complete in her wants and motives that Harold Bloom goes so far as to say “if Rosalind cannot please us, then no one in Shakespeare or elsewhere in literature ever will,” she is distilled in this production to some sparkle and a bashful lust for Orlando – while the secondary female characters are much more proactive in pursuit of their men.
Rosalind (Taylor Robinson) doesn’t even devise the plan to disguise herself in male clothes – so the whole ruse is less strategic here, simply Touchstone (Will Hayes) throwing discarded garments at the two exiles so they won’t stand out in their sequined gowns. And when he suggests she cut her hair, there’s very nearly a fight scene. All of this is to say, while Rosalind is charming, and animated in Robinson’s portrayal, she does not take charge of her own destiny in the way her character typically does.
The other female characters are a different story. Celia (Sharisse Taylor) is an outlandish chihuahua of a thing, a dynamic burst of physical comedy who lets her presence be known – including to her suitor, Oliver (Scott Turner). Phebe is a pole dancer, willing to use her talents to seduce Rosalind’s alter-ego Ganymede and then, more successfully, Silvius. Audrey is no longer a dull-witted shepherdess but a tap-dancer who wins Touchstone’s affections. And Celia, Phebe, and Audrey all take on the role of pursuer in their relationships – unlike Rosalind, who hides behind her male disguise.
AS YOU LIKE IT
December 9 – January 17, 2016
1800 S. Bell Street
Arlington, Va 22202
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $15 – $60
It is an interesting choice, empowering the smaller female roles and giving Rosalind a less proactive stance. While some facets of the plot don’t hold up as well through this new lens, it is nonetheless an interesting way to view the characters.
Also notable for the character’s new interpretation is Jaques, no longer the forest philosopher but a hermetic madman who lives underground and speaks through masks and sock puppets. The best-known monologue from the play – “All the world’s a stage… ” – is interpreted through a series of masks and movements, successful in its ability to recall the source text and impart meaning to those who might not be as familiar with the speech.
The dance sequence at the very end of the show, after all four couples have been established and wed, has a lightness and joy reminiscent of more traditional productions (paired with, of course, Synetic’s impeccable dance skills). And here is where characters and audience alike seem to have the most fun – breaking free, finally, of the rust and darkness and gloom, and moving into what we might hope is a new and different landscape, free of mobsters or junkyards or creepy masks. Because isn’t that what love does? Isn’t that, ultimately, what Shakespeare would have us believe – with or without his words?
As You Like It by William Shakespeare . Adapted and directed by Paata Tsikurishvili . Script Adaptation: Nathan Weinberger . Choreographer: Irina Tsikurishvili .
Cast: Taylor Robinson, Sharisse Taylor, Will Hayes, Francesca Blume, Philip Fletcher, Scott Turner, Scott Brown, Laura Artesi, Vato Tsikurishvili, Irakli Kavsadze, Konstantine Lorkipanidze, Irina Kavsadze, Anna Lynch and Shu-nan Chu .
Assistant Director: Irakli Kavsadze . Fight Choreographer: Ben Cunis . Set Designer: Anastasia Simes . Costume Designer: Kendra Rai . Lighting Designer: Brian Allard . Sound Designer: Thomas Sowers . Props Master: Chris Foote . Sound Editor and Resident Composer: Konstantine Lortkipanidze . Production Manager: Ann Allan . Technical Director: Phil Charlwood . Master Electrician: Alex Keen . Sound/Multimedia Engineer: Thomas Sowers . Assistant Costume Designer: Courtney Wood .Assistant Lighting Designer: Nicki Rosecranz . Assistant Stage Manager: Derek David . Assistant Stage Manager: Sofia Schultz . Wardrobe Manager: Anastazia Whittle .Light Board Operator: Nathan Collard . Production Assistant: Julieanna Novak . Stage Manager: Marley Giggey . Produced by Synetic Theater . Reviewed by Jennifer Clements.