Review: Synetic Theatre's Midsummer 'Decameron' Series an Amazing Cornucopia of Talent

By: Jul. 09, 2020

Review:  Synetic Theatre's Midsummer 'Decameron' Series an Amazing Cornucopia of Talent

Face it, you're going as crazy as everyone else, desperate for some serious fun, for diversions galore-even if you have to settle for a night cuddled up with your laptop. (I know).

But starting this Friday, July 10, the artists at Synetic have found the answer to your summer doldrums, which are now magnified beyond endurance by social-distancing rules: a series of video vignettes inspired by the ultimate in pandemic lit, Giovanni Boccaccio's "Decameron."

The premise behind Boccaccio's and Synetic's tale-telling is straightforward enough: you're in isolation for the foreseeable future, and with all the time in the world on your hands what better way to pass it than regale each other with tall tales? In the original, 14th-century version, 10 acquaintances are holed up together to get away from a plague in nearby Florence; each of them has to come up with one entertaining story each night, for 10 days (the title "Decameron" is Greek for "ten days").

Each day, starting on July 10, Synetic will release a new series of videos--concise and heady stuff. And when the 10 days are up, not to worry--you can still enjoy them until July 31, you've got the whole month!

The total number of tales is closer to 30-a manageable number-and it still has that incredible artistic impact you've come to expect from Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili's ensemble. Synetic's mastery of tale-telling is a given, but what's truly wonderful is to realize that the troupe's creativity translates so deliciously to the small screen. And the variety of aesthetics and approaches to visual story-telling here is equally fascinating to see. It's fun to see colleagues in other cities, and other countries, contributing to this as well - a truly international version of tale-telling at its quirkiest and best.

Traditionally when you go to Crystal City to see these artists in action, you're greeted with a single (albeit singular) aesthetic. As amazing as that is, now multiply that aesthetic by 30 - Synetic's online "Decameron" features three different artists each day, each of them tackling a Boccaccio tale with their own unique approach.

Do you want European, art-house stuff? Francesca Jandasek's piece on Day 2, "Put the Devil Back in Hell," about a young woman's sexual awakening, includes barren landscapes and symbolism worthy of Aleksandr Sokurov's film version of "Faust." Do you want a little David Lynch-style suspense? Raymond Simeon's entry (day 5), accompanied by Andrew Simeon's brilliant sound effects and editing, is a portrait in madness which, filmed in black and white, brings to mind that midnight cinema classic "Eraserhead."

If it's comedy you want, Joshua Lucas has you covered (Day 4), playing all the characters in a Commedia-style scenario, with trouble brewing over a missing leg of bird at the master's supper. And for those who love the old 20's style slapstick, complete with intertitles and upright-piano accompaniment, you can't go wrong with Dylan Arredondo's tale (Day 5), in which he cons his roomie and drinking buddy (the clueless Jared Graham) into thinking he's pregnant. Kevin MacLeod's piano work here is priceless and adds immensely to the fun.

There are moments for reflection on the here and now, too - Maria Simpkins gets the whole series going on Day 1 with her take on the challenges of home confinement, reaching the limits of her patience until she realizes she can reach out to us-her audience-through her story. And Kat Cárdenas-Cruz's take on "How to Be Creative During Quarantine" (Day 5) mirrors Simpkins' predicament in ways that are equally clever.

On a more sober note, Dallas and Tori Tolentino have one of the more chilling scenarios (Day 1); a couple who aren't anxious about whether they can be faithful to each other, but whether they can take the precautions necessary to avoid infection. Filmed in Milan (where Ms. Tolentino is currently studying), and near one of our pandemic's early epicenters, it's a reminder how our desperate desire for freedom and a normal life has turned so tragically deadly.

At this writing I have only had the time to review the first 5 days' worth of offerings, but rest assured-from what I've seen it's guaranteed that the entire series will take you anywhere and everywhere you wish to go. The journeys will be unique-each and every one of them.

But the thing is to log in, stay in touch with Synetic's inimitable artistry. And give them your financial support, our artists need to know we value them especially now!

Running Time: 3 Tales per day, approximately 20-25 minutes/day.

Production Photo: Katherine DuBois. (Photo by, who else, a socially-distanced Katherine DuBois).

Performances of Decameron will be available online through Synetic Theater's home page through July 31.

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