Through Oct. 31
7:30 p.m. Wednesday
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
2 p.m. Sunday
1800 S. Bell St., Crystal City
$40 – $50
Synetic Theater is back with another of its wordless wonders, this time tackling the King Arthur legend in a typically innovative production.
All of it is performed by a cast of 15, most of whom are men, for this was an epoch when it was men with force of arms who ruled and women could hope only to survive — or sometimes even thrive — either by their wiles or to enchant men with their beauty. And it is told throughout by bodies in motion and faces on which emotions are written, urgently but silently.
With never a word spoken, only the occasional grunt of alarm or anger, we see the warrior Arthur pull the great sword Excalibur from the stone and win the kingship of this early sixth century Roman-British “Camelot.” But then he faces only ultimate despair when his graceful Queen Guinevere and his protege the bold Sir Lancelot move from glances and gestures to carnal consummation. Meanwhile he dreads the threat from his half-sister, the malevolent Morgan le Fay, and the shifty Morded, who together conspire against him.
The legend of Arthur begins with lust. King Uther covets another man’s wife, Igraine, who is also Morgan’s mother. Like the Old Testament King David with the beautiful Bathsheba, Uther decides that his royal rights include sexual prerogatives. And so with the help of the wizard Merlin, he uses a spell to creep near Igraine’s husband and slay him and then he sleeps with her in the guise of her husband.
Igraine gives birth to Uther’s child, Arthur, but Merlin steals away the baby, and Uther himself is later murdered. These are elemental emotions and Morgan vows revenge for the death of her father and begins her relentless pursuit of both Merlin and Arthur. We see this sword and sorcery presented with a stylized intensity, all muscular movement and moody music, as the cast tells the story with spray and splash in ankle-deep water. This is the first water stage for this troupe, now in its 10th year but in the premiere presentation in its new Crystal City location through Oct. 31.
At times this movement is brightly lit with the sunshine of new hope for a chivalric order — the Knights of the Round Table — but at other times it is the flash of action performed in death-dealing darkness, feral evil illuminated only by flashlights and the sudden glare of a spotlight on a sword or a battle-axe. For this is non-stop beauty and brawn, in a choreography of combat and of romance, of ancient warrior men seeking dominance in battle, but at other times of achingly beautiful moments of tender sensuality, or when furtive longing suddenly becomes fiercely intense coupling.
The lithe and sinuous Guinevere sweetly loves her king even as she is drawn to young Lancelot. But sex comes dramatically also with another “bed-trick,” echoing Uther’s earlier spell over her mother Igraine, when the incestuous Morgan, a seductress sucubus, steals her way into her half-brother Arthur’s bed in the guise of his wife Guinevere and tricks him into impregnating her. Yes, this is high soap opera presented full-tilt with gorgeous gowns and chain-mail and shield.
And there is sex throughout — sometimes only hinted at by the magician Merlin, not here a graybeard but youthful and cunning, serpentine and slinky in revealing, tight-fitting black leather straps. And Merlin seems at times to linger long with nearly a caress across Arthur’s frequently bare heroic torso.
The ensemble of Arthur’s knights also strut their stuff like stuntmen, their eye-candy athletic bodies in constant motion, cart wheeling and cavorting, then hacking and hewing. One of them, trained by Synetic Theatre and previously in its production of “Carmen,” is openly gay: JR Russ, who will be missed if as rumored he plans to leave the D.C. area.
The stand-out performances include those of Synetic company regular Ben Cunis in the title role and the incandescently beautiful Brynn Tucker as Guinevere in her third role with the company.