I’m Speechless RE: Synetic’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Alex-Mills-as-Puck-photo-by-Ray-GniewekAlex Mills as Puck. Photo by Ray Gniewek.

Elvis Costello: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” (Attribution apocryphal.)

Bob Christgau: “One of the many foolish things about the fools who compare writing about music to dancing about architecture is that dancing usually is about architecture. When bodies move in relation to a defined space, be it stage, ballroom, living room, gymnasium, agora, or congo square, they comment on that space whether they mean to or not.” (Attribution solid. He was sitting four feet from me when he said it.)

Klimek: “Oh, crap. This play is actually a dance show.”

But professionals, and ambitious semi-pros, muddle through. My DCist review of Synetic Theatre’s speechless A Midsummer Night’s Dream explodes into action herewith.

3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

The hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiills are aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive in Synetic Theater’s nonverbal, nonstop production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

Okay, so maybe not the hills, but certainly the forest prowled by Alex Mills’s supple and lupine mischief-maker, Robin Goodfellow. Upholstered in ghostly blue fur and forever coiling his spine in ways that will make any chiropractors in the house see dollar signs, he’s the best thing about this fourth Synetic Shakespeare adaptation, sans verse, sans words, sans speech, sans — well, yes, pretty much everything that makes the bard The Bard, you know?

There’s something innately perverse about doing Shakespeare without the words. We all know he appropriated his plots from elsewhere, but we remember them as his because he elevated them with poetry that still enchants four centuries later. I didn’t see Synetic’s prior, verbiage-free versions of Romeo & Juliet, MacBeth, or Hamlet. A mute performance of the the latter — a relentlessly cerebral, psychologically meticulous work — seems particularly impossible. Apparently, they pulled it off, though. Reviewing Hamlet: The Rest Is Silence for the Washington Post in April 2002, William Triplett called it “easily the most daring and innovative piece of theater seen on a Washington stage in a long time.”

Compared to that, muzzling Midsummer, with its misdirected couplings and abundant chases, fights, and fairies, seems like a piece of triple-wedding cake. Ben Cunis is credited with the adaptation, and the fight choreography. Synetic’s usual creative team is in place: Husband-and-wife director-choreographer duo Paata Tsikurishvili and Irinia Tisikurishvili (who also plays Titania, the faerie queen), along with Konstatine Lortkipanidze, who handled the sound design and composed the score — alternately pulsating electronica and woodwind whimsy.

Irina Koval and Marissa Molnar. Photo by Ray Gniewek.

If ixnay-ing the eaking-spay denudes the story of much of its humor and suspense — and it does — we’re compensated in grace and athleticism: The program is danced from start to finish. Hmmm, no talking, all dancing — is this really a play, or is it a dance piece? That’s a problem for the Helen Hayes voters, I guess. And not much a problem, it would seem, since Synetic shows have tended to clean up at the Hayesies in recent years.

You can’t blame the judges for being awestruck. The eye-candy here is exotic and plentiful, from Anastasia Ryurikov Simes’s vine-festooned, eminently climbable forest set to her equally ornate costumes: scaly armor for Oberon; elegant evening gowns that tear conveniently into saucy lingerie for Hermia and Helena.

Then there’s the cast, necessarily long on fit, attractive types. As Helena, Marissa Molnar is particularly adept at the kind of clowning required as the show’s dual suitors, Demetrius and Lysander, fight over her.

Lortkipanidze, meanwhile, shows up onstage to contribute a live piano score — complemented by Levan Lortkipanidze on guitar and flute — to the Rude Mechanicals scenes. Lortkipanidze’s piano is missing its front panel, for no obvious reason other than that it’s fun to watch the mallets hit the strings.

It’s funny, the things you notice when everybody just shuts up for a second.

Synetic Theater’s nonverbal A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater through June 14. The performance runs approximately 90 minutes without an intermission. Tickets are available here.

One response to “I’m Speechless RE: Synetic’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

  1. Steve Beall

    What feat of derring-do: balancing up there, taking the 40K meter view of Synetic’s very questionable position in relation to the theatre they may be deconstructing, while also daring to look down closely and give their specific art its due.

    I’m sure it’s fuddy-duddy to say so, but given the present circumstances, we might as well have considered, say, Nick Cave’s performance of Stagger Lee at the 9:30 Club last year for a Helen Hayes award. It was, after all, on a stage. It was, after all, sublime. Thus, it was theatre. Oh, but wait … not enough performances. Never mind.

    I look forward to actually SEEING my first Synetic production. If my experience is anything like that of most people I know, I’ll love it. But, also like most people I know, I’ll probably come away insisting it’s not a play.

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