Synetic Theater is known for blending classical plays with contemporary elements and its incredibly popular adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is no exception. Combining the Bard’s timeless tale of mixed-up love with blaring techno and extraordinary acrobatics, Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s wordless reimagining still contains all of the magic and disorder of the original, just in a weirder package. While the Merry Mechanicals’ plot is at times a little tedious and, of course, the wit of Shakespeare is lost in this entirely silent version, the physicality of the play is incredibly impressive.
“Midsummer” begins with the chaotic birth of Puck (Alex Mills), made beautiful by Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography, and his adoption by fairy royalty Oberon (Philip Fletcher) and Titania (Tori Bertocci). From there, things become complicated. A disorganized theater troupe headed by Peter Quince (Ryan Sellers) prepares their own adaptation of Shakespeare intended to be performed at the Royal wedding. All the while the subjects of the wedding, Duke Theseus (Chris Galindo) and his fiancee Hippolyta (Jodi Niehoff), try to make the forceful Hermia (Irina Kavsadze) marry Demetrius (Peter Pereyra), who Helena (Emily Whitworth) is in love with, instead of her true love Lysander (Scott Brown). The three lovers make an angsty escape into the woods, where Puck and Oberon proceed to make a game of their emotions.
Shakespeare’s “Midsummer” is not a very complicated play, but without words it’s easy to befuddle audience members whose last interaction with the play was in high school. Tsikurishvili does a good job at clearly relaying the plot by doing what Synetic does best: adding dance and acrobatics. The stage has minimal scenery, a red velvet curtain relays that characters are in town and long strings of lights wrapped in green fabric symbolize the forest. Larger props are brought on by characters and then promptly removed, giving the actors plenty of space to dance, or be thrown, across the stage.
The physicality of Tsikurishvili’s adaptation of the play is what really makes it shine. The Merry Mechanicals brawl without mercy, flinging each other across the stage with abandon, Alex Mills’ Puck contorts himself into positions reminiscent of Regan McNeil in The Exorcist, and, thanks to Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography, fairies dance across the stage so delicately they seem to be floating. The constant movement keeps the silence from boring the audience and allows for moments of hilarious slapstick comedy that really captures the absurdity of Shakespeare’s comedies.
The theater troupe plot is, at its best, completely vaudeville and, at its worst, tedious. The troupe’s troubles are interspersed throughout the story and are, at first, a breath of fresh air from the fairy intrigue. Peter Quince, Bottom (Irakli Kavsadze), and the rest of the players are over the top funny. But, there are only so many times you can watch people bumble around before it starts to get a little boring. Most of the troupe’s practicing scenes are hilarious, but by the time the actual play within the play is being performed their antics feel mundane.
Alex Mills perfectly embodies the mischievous Puck with his over-the-top body movements and impressive contortions. In a play filled with talented actors who are all able to add depth to their characters without speaking a word, Mills often steals scenes. The chemistry between Irina Kavsadze (Hermia) and Emily Whitworth (Helena) is delightful. Their transition from friends to rivals is easily one of the funniest scenes in the play and they’re able to hold their own against Scott Brown (Lysander) and Peter Pereyra (Demetrius), who get more of the physical slapstick jokes.
Tsikurishvili’s production impressively combines vaudeville humor and intricate choreography with classic shakespeare to create a weird and surreal version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It’s especially jarring considering many people view Shakespeare as stuffy and serious, forgetting that his plays were viewed by both the rich and poor. By eliminating the words and focusing on the physical aspect of the play, Tsikurishvili makes “Midsummer” fun for both the Shakespeare lover and the hater.