By Tristan Lejeune
Pity poor Quasimodo, that deformed bell-ringer who kills and dies for a woman who doesn’t even really love him. Pity, too, Vato Tsikurishvili, who has to go through all that in a half-mask and fake hump in Synetic Theater’s creative if ultimately unmoving new adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Don’t get me wrong: This is a spruce little show. It’s nimble and well-flavored and you never catch it snoring. I recommend it for any fans of Victor Hugo, modern dance, or stories best told by candelabra. But don’t expect the tale of the kind hunchback and the über-popular gypsy woman to break your heart; it aims for the eyes and ears instead.
Synetic’s unique blend of pantomime and dance, from director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili, is a fine fit for Hugo’s florid romance, which has about a 3:1 ratio of passion to logic. They are wise to simplify the story’s second half, which is basically a bunch of kidnapping and counter-kidnapping.
Esmeralda (Irina Kavsadze) must be the most sought-after woman in 15th century Paris. She’s the desideratum of Phoebus (Zana Gankhuyag), a captain of the guard, the minstrel Gringoire (a humorous Robert Bowen Smith), and, of course, the evil man of the cloth Frollo (Philip Fletcher shows more midriff than most archdeacons) and his ward, Quasimodo.
Kavsadze is a great stage partner to all four — she’s expressive without ever over-acting — but Tsikurishvili does perhaps the best job of giving it back. He’s fleet and spry without forgetting his character’s handicaps.
I wish his costume was 110% less iridescent. When you look at the cloak of the hunchback of Norte Dame, you shouldn’t think “opal.” Her twirling skirt and jingling chains are right on the money, however, and Fletcher clearly enjoys Frollo’s billowing robes, courtesy of costume designer Erik Teague, who aces the mask work. He gives good gargoyle.
The score, which combines anxious percussion with melancholy strings, is less memorable that some of Synetic’s older soundtracks. It sounds like it can’t decide if it’s about to break into “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” or “The Rains of Castamere.”
Those of us who have visited the 4th arrondissement will see nothing we recognize in the escarpment-and-candles set, but that’s deliberate. This production is less Gothic than just goth. Who’s ready for self-flagellation and Ozzy Osborne eye makeup?! When Hunchback sticks to the dark, it’s on good footing. Bring on the smoke machines and chorus of menacing whispers. In this dialogue-free show, the only word you can half make out is a sibilant “sinners,” which is fair, because we’re all sinners.
The hulking wooden set ensures the production takes place in full 3-D — lots of climbing. It still feels like a shadow-play, however, in terms of emotion. Perhaps we don’t know enough about Esmeralda and Quasi to fully identify with them as characters.
It’s compelling, but falls short of connecting.