March 14, 2013 | by Patrick Folliard
Dark waters
The Tempest, Philip Fletcher, David Istrate, Synetic, gay news, theater, Washington Blade

Philip Fletcher, left, and David Istrate in Synetic’s ‘The Tempest.’ (Photo by Johnny Shrycock; courtesy Synetic)

‘The Tempest’
Through March 24
Synetic Theater
1800 S. Bell Street, Arlington
$35-$55
synetictheater.org

As it if it weren’t already daunting enough to silently interpret Shakespeare through stylized moves and gravity-defying vertical jumps, Synetic Theater has now added water to the mix. For its current take on “The Tempest,” the celebrated movement-based company has transformed its Crystal City stage into a lake of shallow dark water with stunning results.

Because the sea is so integral to the island-set romantic dramedy, performing in ankle deep water doesn’t feel all that farfetched. The play opens with Prospero, the disposed Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda landing on a remote, strange island. Armed with a magical staff, Prospero conjures a storm, causing his political enemies/estranged family members’ ship to wreck, landing them on the island too. And like a body of water, the story is always changing, whipsawing from splashy merriment to dangerous mystery to contemplative calm.

Paata Tsikurishvili’s lucid staging along with Irina Tsikurishvili’s wildly inventive choreography performed by a cast of impressively fit and mostly graceful young actors, go straight to the essence of the bard’s work, capturing its spirit while invigorating it with sexy, very watchable action. Whether a fight to the death between Prospoero and Caliban’s scary mother Sycorax (Victoria Bertocci) or a big dozen-person brawl, the glorious acrobatic combat scenes are stunningly staged by fight choreographer Ben Cunis.

“The Tempest” is the ninth installment of Synetic’s ongoing Silent Shakespeare Series. No dialogue is spoken. In fact, except for a few grunts and one or two harrumphs, the actors are entirely mute. And while you won’t hear Prospero waxing poetic, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep” or treacherous young Sebastian barking “A pox o’ your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog,” you will feel the full of impact of the text. What’s lost in spoken word is made up for in the expressive comedy, anger and poignancy of the movement

Shakespeare wrote “The Tempest” late in his career, incorporating varied influences from his other works. Similarly, the seasoned Synetic rises to the occasion, using its full range of skill in the retelling of this epic tale.

As Prospero, out actor Philip Fletcher convincingly conveys his character’s journey from anger to forgiveness and acceptance. His quietly compelling performance complements showier turns by Vato Tsikurishvili as the wild-eyed, indigenous island red devil Caliban and David Istrate as Prospero’s tender favorite Ariel (played as magically manic with a dash of Nosferatu creepiness by the almost unrecognizable, head-to-toe platinum-painted Synetic regular). And Irinka Kavsadze charmingly plays Miranda as an awkward girl on the precipice of becoming a lovely young woman.

With its expanse of dark water backed by a huge rock with a derelict, water-streaming grand piano to the side, Anastasia Simes’ set is serviceable yet mysteriously dreamy. Ragged curtains suggested torn ship sails and at times seaweed. Andrew F. Griffin lighting design and Riki Kim’s projections effectively create a feel of constant motion, the movement of the sea. Moody and hard driving, Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s original score helps set the scene and propel the fast-paced action forward.

For DC theater-goers, water-filled stages are all the rage around town at the moment. At Arena Stage though Sunday, Mary Zimmerman’s Tony Award-winning adaptation of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is being performed in a pool, and like Synetic’s latest, it’s also soaking both actors and a few intrepid front row audience members. Get wet while you can.

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