Review: Synetic Theater Presents SLEEPING BEAUTY with a Twist

By: Dec. 12, 2016
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The classic fairy tale SLEEPING BEAUTY is hundreds of years old, but Synetic Theater has improved it from an emotional standpoint by incorporating an unexpected twist: the Witch is a multidimensional person. In this version, the Prince is the Witch's son, and the incomparable Irina Tsikurishvili brings the Witch to life. The result is breathtaking and makes for timeless entertainment for younger audiences and their families.

Director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili team up again for this wordless Synetic production, which starts two of the theater's Teen Company alumni: the radiant Eliza Smith as Briar Rose, and the expressive Zana Gankhuyag as the Prince who saves her from eternal sleep.

The plot is well-worn territory, but the delivery of the story, from the acting to the atmosphere, makes it a worthwhile endeavor. Irina Tsikurishvili is stunning as the Witch, stealing the show with fierce movement and facial expressions that cut right to each scene's emotional core. She conveys wrath as easily as she does maternal tenderness. Her costumes (designed by Kendra Rai) are darkly glamorous and among the best in the play.

Adding a hefty dose of physical comedy are the three graceful but goofy Fairies (Francesca Blume, Kathy Gordon, and Emily Whitworth). Like Tsikurishvili, they're clad in standout costumes, in this case whimsical dresses with asymmetrical skirts. Smith's Briar Rose doesn't receive as much creative care in the costume department. She's dressed in white to echo her childlike innocence, but her initial dress recalls a 1980s bride and doesn't fit into the rest of the show's aesthetic.

That overarching aesthetic is fanciful but modern. Scenic design (Phil Charlwood) consists of ornate projections across wide curtains of neutral cloth hanging down from the ceiling. These curtains, with the help of the cast, transform into flames, trees, waterfalls, even shackles. Stories within the story, such as the prophecy that Briar Rose will one day prick her finger on a spinning wheel, are creatively illustrated as shadows behind a screen.

Resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, director of music Irakli Kavsadze, and sound designer Thomas Sowers have developed a new age soundscape that imbues the tale with magic that feels real. Sound effects are three-dimensional as they make full use of multiple speakers throughout the space. Some elements of the soundtrack feel artificial, as though they were pulled from video games, but most of it is moving and fully envelops the theater in a fantasy realm.

The star of this show, as in all Synetic productions, is the gorgeously nuanced movement. Every mimed motion, from a butterfly alighting on a hand to that fated spinning wheel wound, is flawlessly executed and transports audiences to a place beyond imagination. For this reason especially, the world of SLEEPING BEAUTY is worth a visit.

Running time: approximately 1 hour 30 minutes without an intermission.

SLEEPING BEAUTY plays through January 8, 2017, at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St. in Crystal City, Arlington, VA 22202. Tickets can be purchased on or by calling 866-811-4111.

Photo: Cast of SLEEPING BEAUTY; photo by Johnny Shryock, courtesy of Synetic Theater.


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