Silent take on ‘Old Man and the Sea’ at Capital Fringe festival


Hector J. Reynoso wrote, directs and stars in Capital Fringe festival's “The Old Man Never Let It Go.” (Johnny Shryock)

The 2014 Capital Fringe festival launched in earnest Thursday night with roughly 30 shows, one of them a wordless adaptation of “The Old Man and the Sea” directed and performed by deaf actor Hector J. Reynoso.

Hemingway without the language? In “The Old Man Never Let It Go,” Reynoso proves that it’s do-able, in the same way that D.C.’s acclaimed Synetic Theatre has franchised Shakespeare without the dialogue and speeches. (Reynoso has performed with Synetic a number of times.) You mine the story for action and keep the stage buzzing with vivid imagery and deeply moody music.

In the small Lab II theater of the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Reynoso plays the aged fisherman against a terrific video backdrop by projection designer Igor Dmitry. Vistas include sparkly beaches and scorching sun, but there is a lyrical, dreamy quality, too — although as Reynoso rows around the stage in a little boat against a glistening ocean to a lightly jazzy Spanish guitar tune, the performance drifts uncomfortably toward bland music video doldrums.

The constant musical underscoring and sound design is by Synetic’s Konstantine Lortkipanidze, and at its best it drives distinct, shifting rhythms in the saga of the fisherman’s battle with a marlin.

The book resists the stage a little, but then Reynoso’s 30-minute take is more a poetic distillation than a full-bodied adaptation. The bearded, bushy haired Reynoso himself is charismatic as the old man, padding about in baggy trousers and a rumpled hat. Comfortably enveloped by the compelling technical design, the actor pantomimes a simple life and then the epic, solitary struggle at sea. The brief show winds up as a limited but likable portrait of deep pride and passion.

“The Old Man Never Let It Go” will be performed four more times through July 26 in Lab II of the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Visit capitalfringe.org.

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.
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