BWW Review: THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ at Synetic Theater
It is difficult to think of another work of American literature that has so captured the imagination or has inspired more reincarnations than L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Since its publication in 1900, the original novel has lent itself to several stage productions, feature films, "Oz" sequels, and enough pop culture references to keep Trivial Pursuit enthusiasts busy. This summer, Synetic Theater manages to make a mark on this prolific field with their own adaptation.
This production, part of Synetic's "New Voice Series", has been adapted by Synetic Company Members Ryan Sellers and Tori Bertocci. As audiences have come to expect from Synetic, this Oz is in a league of its own. Though one of their "talking" productions, the creative physicality for which the company is known brings a very unique and refreshing twist to this well known tale.
The show opens on the Wizard, rather than the expected Kansas prairie; we are given a quick glimpse into a man's loneliness and desire for companionship that will set the play's events in tragic motion. Robert Bowen Smith gives a very affecting performance as the Wizard, giving the character a depth and warmth that is often missing in Oz adaptations. The action moves briefly to Kansas before whisking Dorothy (Emily Whitworth) and Toto (Jacob Yeh) to Munchkinland.
As Dorothy and Toto begin their adventure, it is clear that Sellers and Bertocci have taken the bulk of their inspiration from the original novel, rather than more modern retellings - the magic slippers are silver, inhabitants of the Emerald City must wear green spectacles, Oz is described as surrounded by a desert, an appearance by the Porcelain People of Quadling Country, the Witch's Golden Cap, and, as fans of the 1939 film may be surprised to learn, Oz is a real place.
In a nod to Synetic's emphasis on physical theatre over spoken dialogue, the Witch of the North (Suzy Alden) welcomes Dorothy to Oz, telling her that "words are the province of wizards and witches" here. This provides an opportunity for any spoken word that follows to be intentional and significant. Unfortunately, this opportunity is somewhat squandered. In particular, Whitworth's Dorothy is buried under never-ending exposition. As the Scarecrow (Dallas Tolentino) begins to learn and use language, the moment becomes completely lost amid a cacophony of other chatter.
The entire ensemble is used to phenomenal effect in this production, including a tango performed by the poisonous poppies, but it is in its smaller moments, that Synetic's Oz truly shines. In one scene, the Tinman (Philip Fletcher), lacking the ability to speak, conveys his story through puppetry, while balletic ensemble members re-enact the scenes to one side. For these moments, it is perhaps fortuitous that the production had a last minute venue change from their 350-seat house in Crystal City to the Davis Performing Arts Center at Georgetown University.
"It was a huge surprise finding out that we wouldn't be in our home space," said Sellers. "Tori and I designed the show to fit in and maximize a space much larger, and it was definitely a significant adjustment to choreography, lighting, and set to need to move into a space almost half the size...It speaks to the adaptability of the team that the choreography and blocking were able to be compressed, the lighting redesigned, and the set condensed. We took the show vision from spectacular and explosive to intimate and magical, and I believe it translated quite well."
Bertocci agreed, remarking, "It takes a village. That is the statement I keep replaying in my head. Relocating The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from a theater that seats over 300 people to one that seats 90 was a major move for us. We had to reconfigure and redesign our initial concepts within 2 weeks of opening. However this move made our show stronger. Our entire team went above and beyond to make this production magical!"
Synetic Theater's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz runs through August 12, 2018. More information and tickets are available at SyneticTheater.org.