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Synetic expands tableau

‘Dorian Gray’ intersperses dialogue with company’s signature moves

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The Picture of Dorian Gray, Synetic Theater, gay news, Washington Blade
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Synetic Theater, gay news, Washington Blade

The cast of Synetic’s ‘Picture of Dorian Gray.’ The production represents a bold move for the company. (Photo courtesy Synetic)

‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

Through Nov. 3

Synetic Theater

1800 South Bell Street, Crystal City

$35 and up

866-811-4111

Synetictheater.org

In adapting Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Synetic Theater turns its attention to that eternal nagging question: What price beauty? The 1891 work, Wilde’s only novel, chronicles the downfall of a handsome Londoner who trades his soul to remain eternally young. While Dorian never ages, his physical decline and moral purification is reflected in a portrait tucked safely away in the attic. Tempting tradeoff, eh?

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it,” advises decadent Lord Henry (Joseph Carlson) to his willing young student Dorian (Dallas Tolentino). And yield Dorian does: he enthusiastically tastes all the pleasures that the British metropolis has to offer, tragically seducing young actresses, damaging the reputations of respectable married ladies and bedding their sons. He dips into opium, orgies, blackmail and along the way develops an increasingly cruel edge that takes him from pleasure seeking fop to cold-hearted killer.

Typically Synetic follows a fast-paced mostly mute, 90-minute formula. Many past productions have succeeded using this recipe. For “Dorian Gray,” they’ve veered from the course. At two-and-a-half hours, it combines spates of wordy dialogue intercut with choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili’s endlessly imaginative, athletic dance movement for which the company is best known.

And though heavier on witticisms and lyricism than action (despite a murder-filled plotline), “Dorian Gray’s” poetry and foray into the unreal give director Paata Tsikurishvili a lot to play with. Rather than a static painting, the picture is portrayed by Synetic veteran Philip Fletcher, allowing Dorian to interact and struggle with his likeness — these curious and sometimes combative interactions are the most interesting part of the play. As the portrait, Fletcher (who is gay) changes from enigmatically beautiful to hideously debauched, effectively demonstrating Dorian’s excessively naughty behavior. Fletcher’s is a strong and graceful performance.

With his gravity defying backside and enviable abs, Tolendo’s Dorian is the envy of his contemporaries including besotted portraitist and eventual victim Basil (Robert Bowen Smith) and Lord Henry who revels in his ageless friend’s possibilities to continue on a path of evil indefinitely. But despite a good long run of nastiness, Dorian grows tired and reconsiders his wicked ways.

Daniel Pinha’s versatile set is made up of stark metal frames suspended at different heights, beautifully fostering a complete multimedia experience. It’s clear from Coin K. Bills’ wonderfully evocative lighting and Kendra Rai’s gorgeous late Victorian costumes and orgy gear (including Dorian’s tight pleather briefs) that Synetic’s once shallow pockets have grown deservedly deeper in recent years.

While Wilde identified with Dorian, Basil and Lord Harry, his most worldly, pithiest philosophies are voiced through the self-serving aristocrat Lord Henry, haughtily delivered by Carlson. Maxims spoken to Dorian include “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,” and “to get back my youth, I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early or be respectable.”

Other than Wilde’s clever words, the play is mostly devoid of wit, which seems a missed opportunity since Synetic productions are typically peppered with amusing movement bits. Here, they take their decadence and immorality quite seriously.

And while the exchanges between Carlson’s Lord Henry and Tolentino Dorian gives insight into the title character’s motives and emotional turmoil, the play’s best moment are not spoken. And though this production is without Synetic’s more virtuosic choreographic moves, there are moments of sheer ingenuity. For instance, when Dorian visits an opium den, Irina Tsikurishvili uses splattered Day-Glo paint and a plastic screen to transform one more orgy gone wrong into a stunningly dramatic tableau. It’s just another inspired Synetic moment. And this is why even though “Dorian Gray” is not the company’s most sterling effort, it’s still something beautiful and not to be missed.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Baltimore Pride in the Park

Annual celebration featured vendors, performers

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(Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

Baltimore Pride in the Park was held at Druid Hill Park on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Linus Berggren)

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PHOTOS: “Portraits”

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performs at the Kennedy Center

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A scene from "Portraits," as performed in a technical rehearsal at the Kennedy Center on Saturday, June 15. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed “Portraits” at the Kennedy Center on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Theater

Sophie Zmorrod embracing life on the road in ‘Kite Runner’

First national tour comes to Eisenhower Theater on June 25

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Sophie Zmorrod (Photo courtesy of Zmorrod)

‘The Kite Runner’
June 25 – 30
The Kennedy Center
$39-$149
Kennedy-center.org

Newly single, Sophie Zmorrod is enjoying life on the road in the first national tour of “The Kite Runner,” Matthew Spangler’s play with music based on Khaled Hosseini’s gripping novel about damaged relationships and longed for redemption. 

“It’s a wonderful time for me,” says Zmorrod. “I’m past the breakup pain and feeling empowered to explore new cities. A lot of us in the cast are queer, so we figure out the scene wherever the show goes.” 

What’s more, the New York-based actor has fallen in love with the work. “I love how the play’s central character Amir is flawed. He is our antihero. He has faults. As a privileged boy in Kabul, he bears witness to his best friend’s assault and doesn’t intervene. He lives with that guilt for decades and gets that redemption in the end.” 

“He does what he can to right wrongs. For me who’s regretted things, and wished I could go back in time, it resonates. Watching someone forgive themselves and do the right thing is beautiful.” 

Via phone from Chicago (the tour’s stop before moving on to Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater on June 25), Zmorrod, whose background is Lebanese, happily chats about sexuality, ethnicity, and acting. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Looking at your resume, I see you’ve been cast in roles traditionally played by men. And have you played queer characters? 

SOPHIE ZMORROD: Oh yes, both. Whether or not they’re written on the page as queer, they sometimes turn out that way. And that holds true for this show too.  

With “The Winter’s Tale” at Trinity Rep, I played Leontes — the king who banishes his wife — as a woman. So, in that production it was about two women and touched on the violence that women sometimes inflict on other women.

And there was Beadle Bamford in Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” also at Trinity Rep; I played him as a woman who was masculine and wore a suit. It was a great opportunity to explore myself and gender expression. That was a really good experience. 

BLADE: Are you an actor who’s often be called in for queer roles? 

ZMORRAD: Not really. I’m what you might call straight passing. Sometimes I’ve had to advocate for my queerness. To be a part of something. 

Similarly with my ethnicity. I’m called in to audition for the white and Arab roles. It gets tricky because I’m not the exactly the white girl next door and I’m not exactly Jasmine from Disney’s “Aladdin” either. 

This is one of the reasons, I really want people to come see “The Kite Runner,” Audiences need to experience the reality of the wide diversity of Middle Eastern people on the stage. We’re all very different.

And not incidentally, from this 14-person cast, I’ve met some great people to add to those I know from the Middle Eastern affinity spaces and groups I’m connected to in New York.

BLADE: In “The Kite Runner” what parts do you play?

 ZMORRAD: Three characters. All women, I think. In the first act, I’m an elderly eccentric pomegranate seller in the Afghan market, waddling around, speaking in Dari [the lingua franca of Afghanistan]; and the second act, I’m young hip and sell records in a San Francisco market; and at the end, I’m a buttoned-down American immigration bureaucrat advising Amir about adoption.

BLADE:  Your training is impressive: BA cum laude in music from Columbia University, an MFA in acting from Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company, and you’re also accomplished in opera and playwrighting, to name a few things. Does “The Kite Runner” allow you to flex your many muscles? 

ZMORROD: Very much. Playing multiple roles is always fun for an actor – we like malleability. Also, there are instruments on stage. I like working with the singing bowl; it’s usually used in yoga as a soothing sound, but here we save it for the dramatic, uncomfortable moments. I also sing from offstage. 

We are creating the world of the play on a very minimal set. Oh, and we do kite flying, and I’m able to use the some of the languages I speak. So yeah, lots of challenges. It’s great. 

BLADE: It sounds like you’re in a good place both professionally and personally.

ZMORROD: It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable. My being gay was never something I led with. But I’m on the journey and excited to be where I am, and who I am. 

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