If there's one thing I have come to expect from Paata Tsikurishvili (Founding Artistic Director of Synetic Theater) is that he's always pushing the boundaries of theatre even as you think he cannot possibly be any more innovative than he has been in his past productions. For those who have been longtime fans, it should come as no surprise that Mr. Tsikurishvili and company are taking on Shakespeare yet again with a new production of The Tempest. Their silent Shakespeare productions have nearly always been a draw and shed new light on the classic works. What is surprising with this production, however, is how Paata and his tremendous cast and creative team are able to weave together so many elements - a water-filled stage, numerous fight scenes (Ben Cunis), mind-bogglingly athletic choreography (Irina Tsikurishvili), original music (Konstantine Lortkipanidze), sound (Lortkipanidze and Irakli Kavsadze), lighting (Andrew F. Griffin) other worldly costumes and sets (Anastasia R. Simes), and other multimedia elements (the always amazing Riki Kim) - and use them to their maximum advantage to tell the story without it all seeming too overwhelming.
While some audience members may be enticed to see this production due to a perceived gimmick - the actors are tasked with playing out the familiar story of revenge, devotion, love, and triumph set on an island in several inches of water - I am happy to report that there is more to this production than the water. In fact, I'd say there's much more. Beyond each of the 'need to be seen to be believed' production elements - which won't be described here because they need to be experienced firsthand - there's a strong concept which allows the end result to be greater than the sum of its parts.
The emotion and heart of the piece lies within the strong cast of actors tasked to play out the story. We've come to expect strong ensemble casts in Synetic shows and this one is no exception. Palpable emotion, intensity, and precise physical movement - even as they navigate the difficult 'terrain' of the set - make their performances memorable. In particular, Vato Tsikurishvili (Caliban, the villain), Philip Fletcher (Prospero), Dan Istrate (Ariel), and Irina Kavsadze (Miranda) each bring different qualities to their respective roles - Vato is physically imposing and athletic, Philip is the very definition of actor/mover, Dan is enigmatic, and Irina is delightfully engaging - but ultimately they use their every resource to present the story in a seamless way.
While I could quibble that Nathan Weinberger's adaptation is a bit tedious in spots (particularly the middle section where the travelers mostly journey across the island), I do have to commend him in taking a rather unwieldy story and streamlining it without sacrificing the overall themes. The relentless energy that the cast brings to tell the story also contributes to the success of the adaptation.
The themes present in The Tempest are universally relatable and through the Synetic production, where nary a word is spoken, we can easily grasp them while being immensely entertained and mesmerized. The talent involved in this production is exceptional to say the least.
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes without an intermission.
The Tempest plays through March 24, 2013 at Synetic Theater - 1800 S. Bell St, Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-494-8497 or purchase them online.
Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock (Philip Fletcher pictured)