By Tristan Lejeune
Dialogue is overrated.
They got their own thing going at Crystal City’s Synetic Theater, that’s for sure. In the past, I’ve enjoyed their wordless, half-dance, half-pantomime adaptations of literary classics (recent shows include Sleeping Beauty, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), but I was particularly excited to learn the company was planning its first wholly original production in five years.
The Mark of Cain does not disappoint. This play is the right kind of weird — and “original” is decidedly an apt word. It starts in Genesis and ends in nuclear winter, with lots of sex and violence in between. There are lots of familiar Synetic faces up there — not to mention the black-on-charcoal color scheme — but this time, they want to say something new, without, of course, saying anything at all.
Director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili have a parable to tell with this show, going on until August 13. And to tell it they brought lots of balloons, plenty of flour and smoke, and one seriously twisted metal tree of life.
God, represented here by both actor Philip Fletcher and a pair of Illuminati-style pyramid eyes, creates the world out of nothing, and Adam and Eve (Scott Brown and Tori Bertocci give two of the best performances in the show) out of dust. Naturally, there’s a devil in the garden (Kathy Gordon grins with delicious menace), and the world’s first couple are soon cast out with their sons, Abel (a soulful Dallas Tolentino) and Cain (Ryan Sellers).
All this you knew going in. But following mankind’s first fratricide, the show follows Cain, not, as the Bible says, to his wife and children, but throughout history and into very,very modern times.
In its storytelling, Mark of Cain by necessity takes great leaps. Genesis says nothing about Abel representing “artistic impression,” nor about Cain coming into great power, but there he is, rolling around in a Roman orgy and splitting his enemies in a medieval war among kings. Lighting designer Brian Allard and sound designer Irakli Kavsadze keep everything as fever-dream bizarre as they can. If Bertolt Brecht had an acid trip, he’d see several of the ascents to power acted out by Sellers, whose Cain goes from curious to wrathful to haunted.
I’m a fan, too, of the costumes from Alison Samantha Johnson, though the cast has little interest in staying fully dressed. Irrelevant sidenote: this ensemble has great tattoos.
Trading timeless for timely is rarely a good call, and I groaned internally when Cain put on an extra-long red tie and started controlling everyone with his cellphone. The ending wants to Say instead of Tell, which is a real loss — political commentary we don’t need more of. Still, Gordon’s devil gives great selfie.
From the primordial to the post-apocalyptic, The Mark of Cain covers a lot of ground. It doesn’t stick every single landing, but it’s to be commended for its ambition and inspiration.
The Synetic Theater company speaks its own language. I’m not fluent yet, but I’m learning.