BWW Reviews: Synetic Returns to its Roots with HAMLET THE REST IS SILENCE
Twelve years ago, the ever innovative Synetic Theater put its first 'silent' spin on a Shakespeare classic. The choice of source material was Hamlet. Merging traditional forms of theatre with dance and other forms of movement, it offered a new way for DC audiences to experience the classic story - one without dialogue.
This month, Synetic and its Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili return to the production that, in some ways, put the company on the map. This Hamlet...the rest is silence stays true to the original concept, and offers a stripped down take on what many recent viewers have come to expect from a Synetic show in the last few years. With virtually no set/props - apart from mainly a few creatively used multi-purpose panels and acting cubes - , mostly black costumes with few embellishments for most of the cast (both designed by Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili), and very limited acrobatic movement, there is less overt eye-candy spectacle at play than in recent productions such as Twelfth Night, Taming of the Shrew, King Lear etc. This is not to say, however, that there are no production elements. The intensely theatrical and mood-setting lighting design (Brittany Diliberto), pulsing sound design/music selections (Irakli Kavsadze for design, Konstantine Lortkipanidze for editing), and heavy use of stage fog and haze - hallmarks of any Synetic production - are still all at play in this production and wisely used at that.
In this production, there is almost a singular focus on the cast members and how they use movement to tell the familiar story (also adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili). As the hard-working dancer-actors execute Irina Tsikurshivili's supreme ballet and modern dance-influenced angular choreography, they are overwhelmingly convincing in expressing the angst and tragedy inherent in the well-known plot that probably doesn't need to be repeated here. Nary a word is spoken of course, but thanks to the well-executed choreography/movement and facial expressions that can likely reach the back of Synetic's theatre in Crystal City, we can certainly understand the urgency of Hamlet's complex and challenging plight.
The overall decision to shift back to Synetic's roots for the occasion? I'd say it is a good one. This is not to say that the more tech-intensive productions of late do not have their own merits, but it was nice for a change to simply be able to revel in the beautiful pictures that were being created onstage. The movement that creates this picture, I might add, is perfectly in synch with the sound/music selections achieving a perfect balance of visual and auditory delight. Few other elements were vying for my attention and it created an intimate setting for the story to unfold.
Although I did find the storyline slightly muddled and less crystal clear in this production in comparison to some other Synetic 'Silent Shakespeare' adaptations (King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and The Taming of the Shrew come to mind), that's probably not a major problem in this case. It's likely that most audience members will be familiar with the story upon entry and the cast certainly puts forth a great effort to convey what's already known in an interesting way.
I found many things to appreciate with the cast's approach to telling the tale under the watchful eye of Mr. Tsikurishvili.
There's probably little disagreement that Irina Tsikurishvili is an exceptional choreographer that excels in bringing innovative and creative movement to the DC stage in a way that I think is unparalleled, but it's always a pleasure to see her take the stage in a role as well. As Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, her portrayal features very polished dancing, but is also well informed by the story at hand. Simply put, when Irina is onstage, I usually cannot take my eyes off of her and this production is no exception. Magic emerges as she goes head to head with son Hamlet (Alex Mills) with each of those moments becoming even more intense than the ones that precede them until a climax is reached.
Mills has proved that he can carry a Synetic show on more than one occasion (Jekyll and Hyde, anyone?), but in this case, I gained a new appreciation for his tremendous acting ability and how he seamlessly combines it with strong movement. His Hamlet is appropriately conflicted and overcome with grief and one can feel every ounce of his raw emotions as he comes to terms with what happened and his present state. One eye movement, in Alex's case, can take the place of 100 words.
Other cast members including Irina Kavsadze (Ophelia, a part originally played by the 'other' Irina - Irina Tsikurishvili), Irakli Kavsadze (Claudius), and Hector Reynoso (Polonius) do the superb job we've come to expect from them. I particularly appreciated that Irina Kavsadze's take on Ophelia was not too angst-ridden and dramatic, but very realistic and human. Yet all of the actors - from the principals to the ensemble (often tasked with playing ghosts and moving props/set pieces) - prove to be valuable pieces of the puzzle necessary to create a successful production whether they're adding dramatic tension or providing a bit of comedic relief (cue Vato Tskurishvili).
Perhaps the most striking moments of the play come at the beginning and very end (look for a splash of color), but you'll have to see the production to witness how it all comes together with these two lovely bookends.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
"Hamlet...the rest is silence" runs through April 6, 2014 at Synetic's theatrical home in Crystal City - 1800 South Bell Street in Arlington, VA. Tickets can be purchased online or via phone (1-866-811-4111).
Photo Credit: Koko Lanham (Cast pictured).