Day 4 of Synetic Theater’s series of short pieces devised by members of the company’s roster of artists shows much of the same agility and demonstrable translation into forms of physical theater from a classic text that marks the Synetic style. One has to ask, however, whether the individuals are really going as deeply into text as they might to find what has special resonance for today’s audience and the current situation.
The Decameron is not, I would argue, simply a string of “olios” or short diversions. Underneath, it is a test of a group of friends staying isolated and socially distanced to survive a terrifying plague and a time to examine people’s values and what is of importance. There’s a lot of meat in the original text. Some of these short works, however, stay more as showcases for the language of stage combat, dance, and mime without much real attention to the emotional depth of Boccaccio’s intentions.
When seen live, the scores of resident composer Constantine Lortkipanidze blare at you, nailing you into the back of your seat. Whether you like his electronic pop/techno compositions or not, they are part of the immersive experience. Two of today’s pieces incorporate his music and the scores feel more like sketches without helping advance the story in true music-theatre fashion.
Joshua Cole Lucas is a relatively new member of Synetic but has already shown his clown and mimetic abilities in a work like The Tempest, where he played the part of Trinculo. He chose well a scenario for his piece, based on Day 6, Story 4. It reads like a clown act with just enough scenario to create a conflict, reversal, and resolution without getting bogged down in complicated plot or character.
A cook, Chichibo, prepares a dinner for his master of a fine rare fowl his master has shot. The first scene update shows Lucas in conventional mime white face, assembling a chicken to roast, but the chicken prop seems to have other ideas. A quite amusing scene, Lucas wrestles with the fowl and tucks around the bird, made-vertical, potatoes and rosemary sprigs in its armpits. Almost immediately, however we have a continuity problem. The bird being delivered from the oven is on its side, and Voila! no rosemary. If that were not enough, in comes another figure and looks longingly at the succulent bird and demands a leg, which, reluctantly, Chichibo carves for him. But not before the two characters pass this roasting pan, presumably scalding hot from the oven, back and forth sans oven mitts.
Lucas plays not only Chichibo but the other two characters in the story, the eater of the chicken leg (who is another servant in the household although this is not made entirely clear; I thought maybe they were lovers or spouses,) and the lord of the manor. The filmed action deals cleverly enough with the triple casting, by having the “three” walking into and exiting the frame. But the punchline never did anything more than fizzle. Boccaccio’s “biting retort” in the original had the wily Chichibo supposedly convincing his master that birds, like the crane, only have one leg. Whatever might have been shown about the more serious relationship about the unequal power between master and servant went unexplored.
Nutsa Tediashvili took her inspiration from Day 7, Story 9, where, we are told, “a woman takes control and embraces her own desire.” I like that she poses the work as a question she wanted to explore: what is left then in the aftermath? This comes closer to current day needs to examine our own (often selfish) actions and the hurt we cause in our boredom and headlong rush of hedonism.
Tediashvili titles her piece “I Did Things for Love.” She is a beautiful and expressive performer on the small screen. Using her face in close-up, her relationship with the camera seduces us. As the woman who takes and takes, she is flanked in her performance by company members Phillip Fletcher and Alex Mills. Her husband is less decrepit than in Boccaccio’s story: he’s more of a couch potato, more interested in whatever he’s glued to on the small screen than his wife’s insatiable appetites. Tediashvili also includes some nice cinematic elements to tell the story, including a scene shot in violet light where the physical action in silhouette gets quite stylized.
However, playing an old husband as a cuckolded fool may have been screamingly funny in 1347, and indeed was the stuff of many a commedia del’Arte scenario, but watching the young woman pull from her husband’s mouth a perfectly good tooth, pulling out his beard, and grabbing his “necklace” (a bandana,) was torturous.
My favorite scene in the short film is a tango to Lortkipanidze’s techno score. Complete with the triangle involving the sharing and devouring of a pear, it may not be quite the mouth-watering eating scene from Tom Jones the film, but it comes close. But Tediashvili’s film abruptly ends, and I feel cheated; the piece never deals satisfactorily with its premise: what is the aftermath?
Karen Morales-Chacana has taken on one of the most complex and plot-driven stories in Boccaccio’s The Decameron. It is both a revenge tale and one that features gender switching.
Morales-Chacana has created a dual-language tale and that at first grabbed my attention. The setup of a wager was cleverly translated into a contemporary boozy deal made over a billiard table. In helping to further the story, Morales-Chacana uses repeatedly a gift box in close up, first delivered to the husband that reveals Frederick of Hollywood-style lingerie. (However, I’m not sure if most viewers would get that a woman’s personal things serves as “evidence” to the husband that his wife has cheated on him unless one has read Boccaccio.)
I got a little befuddled trying to follow how Morales-Chacana handled the shifting plot points. I am not sure why the creator didn’t follow the trail of that more interesting aspect of how this character, to escape her jealous and dangerous husband and on the run for six years, lived as a man. I also did not get the tone attempted in the subtitle, “Revenge is truly a tastier plate when served cool.”
Why do I continue to have trouble when Synetic actors speak? “No me maté. Don’t kill me.” suddenly takes us into cinematic melodrama. “Take your clothes off. I need all your clothes” devolves the piece further and really isn’t necessary. We see what is happening through the action in the film. Besides in such a short piece, with unisex fashion being ubiquitous, the scene doesn’t tell us anything about her dramatic transformation. Shortly thereafter, the story jumps four years, and just when I might have re-engaged, as I said, where the character lives in a new society as a man, I get instead the banality, “An invitation from the king. Wow!”
Cut to movie music that sounds like Hitchcock, and we’re back on track, I think, with a nail-biting psycho-horror-and-revenge drama. But by the end, the whole thing devolves to reconciliation through spoken word, with the husband saying “Forgive me, my love, I’ll never doubt you again.” Here was a magnificent opportunity, much like the character Paulina’s bringing back to life the queen in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, to confront a jealous husband through tableaux vivants and pull off a tale of forgiveness and moral largesse (both of which we are much in need of today.) It’s there in Boccaccio.
Day 4 of Synetic’s buffet-on-Boccaccio reminds us of the company’s strength in movement-styled silent storytelling. Dealing with text demands rigor and serious time to excavate as the company has done in its best works.
Day 4 of Synetic Theater’s The Decameron debuted July 13, 2020.