By Molly Cox
The Synetic Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing has a lot going on. It’s the company’s latest “Wordless Shakespeare” play. The show, with its complex dance numbers could be described as a musical-without the singing. The show is set in the 1950’s, but the score contains a great deal of synth and later songs such as “Money” by Pink Floyd. There are motorcycles, cans of spray paint and silly string, heroine needles, and scantily clad showgirls. It’s a great deal to stuff into one production.
To understand what you’re seeing, it helps to have some background on the theater and it’s leadership.
Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, who hail from the Republic of Georgia, founded Synetic in 2001. As stated on their website, “trained in dance, theatre and film, the Tsikurishvilis combine traditions of the Caucuses with distinctly American styles to tell classic stories through movement, music, technology and visual arts.” The name “Synetic” comes from a combination of “synthesis: the coming together of distinct elements to form a whole, and kinetic: pertaining to or imparting motion, active, dynamic.”
Kinetic is the key word in describing the show; everyone on stage is constantly in motion. No doubt the greatest strength of Much Ado About Nothing is the sheer athletic ability of its cast, combined with beautiful choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili. In several particularly masterful scenes, the actors perform in slow motion. Magic.
In this version of Shakespeare’s well-loved comedy, Benedick is a sailor retuning from war who leaves his girlfriend Beatrice to join a motorcycle gang called the Syneticons (get it?). Years later we are introduced to Beatrice again, who is now a performer at her uncle’s casino in Las Vegas. The Syneticons show up at the casino, and Benedick and Beatrice are not happy to see each other- at first. Almost instantly a young member of the gang, Claudio, falls in love with and proposes to Beatrice’s cousin, Hero. The villain of the story is the heroine-shooting Don Jon, who is determined to ruin everyone’s happiness by doctoring some photos to make it look as though Hero is cheating on Claudio. When Beatrice and Benedick (who have reconciled by this time) realize that Hero is innocent, they endeavor to set things right.
It was clear that the Synetic cast and crew are veterans of the theater. Props such as the “motorcycles” are brilliantly executed and adapted for the stage, and used in smart, innovative ways. The lighting and color make the show visually compelling. A few actors who truly stand out and deserve special mention are Dallas Tolentino as a brooding Don John, Emily Witworth as an exuberant Hero, and Vato Tsikurishvili as a particularly hilarious “Sheriff” Dogberry.
Although the idea of “wordless Shakespeare” could be about as successful as, say, “silent Mozart,” or “blind Van Gogh,” I enjoyed what Synetic tried. Dazzling costumes and the raw talent of the cast buoyed what might have otherwise been a confusing and wandering storyline. Though it often ventured into absurd and tacky territory, the show is memorable, and on the night I attended, the audience was clearly having a fantastic time. By throwing in everything but the kitchen sink into one production, director Paata Tsikurishvili took a risk, and isn’t that what art is all about?
Much Ado about Nothing will run through March 22, five nights a week- Wednesday through Sunday at the Synetic Theater in Crystal City.