Alas, poor Shakespeare. As it turns out, you don’t really need language to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet. In Synetic’s electric retelling of the star-crossed lovers’ tale, iambic pentameter has shuffled off its mortal coil, and the Bard’s wit and words have been jettisoned, leaving the bare emotions and the heart of the story unchanged.
With roots in dance, mime, physical theatre and silent film, Synetic delivers what no other theatre does: a three dimensional silent movie set to music. Part ballet and part play, the action unfolds before us, with some slight revisions as to scenes but with the bulk of the story unchanged.
Set on a clockwork stage, Synetic begins the evening with a lone figure in red against a huge backdrop of gears and springs; walking slowly to an enormous pendulum set center stage, Friar Laurence thus sets in motion the inevitability of the story.
It becomes Fate writ large. The machinery of tradition – of feuding families and rival factions – makes it clear that once the pendulum begins to swing, nothing on earth can stop it: not even love. It’s powerful symbolism, and Synetic underlines it by showing the two lovers enmeshed in gears, struggling to escape the machine but ultimately failing.
The skill set of the cast is impressive: each of the principals and ensemble must flow in a fine slipstream between dance and acting, and most achieve this admirably. In particular, Irina Kavsadze as Juliet and Zana Gankhuyag as Romeo are beautifully expressive, and Irakli Kavsadze as Friar Laurence can make an audience weep along with him. As Mercutio, Philip Fletcher is suitably hotheaded yet comic right up to the very end, and his fight scene with Ryan Sellers as Tybalt was one of the best choreographed scenes in the piece, though with swords mimed rather than as prop pieces, it was quite difficult to make out the action at times.
For those who know the story intimately, there is some shuffling of scenes and characters; Nurse, for example, is much younger and saucier than in Shakespeare’s description, and as portrayed by Kathy Gordon, offers up some nicely bawdy comic relief. Some scenes in the play are elongated, such as the masquerade ball, with its marvelous and frenzied dance; others are quite different than the original play. Juliet, for example, sees Tybalt dead in the street at Romeo’s hands rather than hearing about it from her Nurse. It makes for a more immediate scene in this retelling, and after all, how interesting would a mimed conversation be?
Original music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze was one of the highlights of this show. Combining an industrial backbeat, references to clockwork, factory sounds, chimes, and Gregorian chants, it bridged the jump from Shakespeare to a steampunk never-never-land beautifully. Director/Adaptor Paata Tsikurishvili and choreograher Irina Tsikurishvili provided the audience with one arresting tableau after another. For example, Friar Laurence’s church is depicted solely by some well placed lighting and the use of the actor playing Mercutio standing in as the figure of Christ, arms outstretched and with his back to the audience. Arresting – and symbolic -indeed.
ROMEO AND JULIET
February 17 – March 27, 2016
1800 South Bell Street
Arlington, VA 22202
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $15 – $60
Check for discounts
As noted above, the set by Anastasia Simes is rather wonderful, with huge rotating gears in dull metallic tones; these become everything from doors to the literal cogs of Fate. But costumes by this same designer seemed to be culled from a different production: though beautiful, with many in shades of jewel tones (particularly Juliet’s costumes), they did not seem to further the machinery reference, but rather seemed to be in a more ballet/Shakespearean vein of design and were chosen primarily for ease of movement. Lighting by Brittany Diliberto (This is the third Synetic staging of Romeo and Juliet, original Lighting Design by Colin K. Bills) added significantly to the production, with atmospheric mists and harsh overhead spots giving focus to the action.
In Synetic’s version, the ending stops one scene short of the play. No Capulet or Montague factions come to the lovers’ tomb; no-one realizes the error of their ways. Friar Laurence offers not his eulogy as in Shakespeare’s play; likewise, there is no cessation of the families’ hostility. The gears of the Machine keep grinding.
Romeo and Juliet by Willliam Shakespeare . Director/Adaptor: Paata Tsikurishvili . Choreography: Irina Tsikurishvili . Original Music: Konstantine Lortkipanidze . Cast: Zana Gankhuyag as Romeo; Irina Kavsadze as Juliet; Philip Fletcher as Mercutio; Ryan Sellers as Tybalt; Irakli Kavsadze as Friar Laurence; Kathy Gordon as Nurse; Will Hays (understudy) as Lord Capulet; Katherine Frattini as Lady Capulet; Randy Snight as Paris . Ensemble: Scott Turner, Janine Baumgadner; Eliza Smith . Costumes & Scenic Design: Anastasia Simes . Props: Kasey Hendricks . Lighting Design: Brittany Diliberto; Original Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills . Sound Design: Irakli Kavsadze and Konstantine Lortkipanidze . Stage Manager: Marley Giggey . Produced by Synetic Theater . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.