Theater review: Synetic revives its ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’


Left to right: Tori Bertocci as Titana and Alext Mills as Puck with the fairy ensemble in Synetic Theater's production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” (Johnny Shryock)

Synetic Theater’s sexy and funny “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with its half-dressed heroines and slapstick clowns, was a high point in the troupe’s decade of successes when it first appeared at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater in 2009. The company is reviving the show on its stage in Crystal City, and the production is just about as nimble and breezy as it originally seemed.

Synetic performs Shakespeare without words, and here the popular tale of romantic mischief is treated with a streak of elegance and lot of knockabout farce. How broad is the comedy? Nick Bottom and his gang — the rude mechanicals who put on their own crude yet sweet show — are done up in an exaggerated silent film style. Konstantine Lortkipanidze plays a banged-up piano as the ersatz troupe, led by Irakli Kavsadze’s appealingly flamboyant Bottom, act as young lovers, frightening lions and all the rest.

The tangled Hermia-Helena-Demetrius-Lysander couplings are hardly less physical. The actors romp through designer Anastasia Rurikov Simes’s attractive glow-in-the-dark forest, made up of thick dangling vines and a few knotted ropes. Those ropes are for the fairy king, Oberon (the lithe and imperious Philip Fletcher), and his rascally minion Puck (an inspired Alex Mills), agile fairies who climb upward so they can watch all the convoluted goings-on.

Emily Whitworth is winsome as the lovelorn Helena, and Whitworth and Irina Kavsadze are graceful even as their brawling characters have their dresses torn off. Scott Brown’s Lysander and Peter Pereyra’s Demetrius round out this rambunctious fling quartet, and the four lovers’ chasing, hurling and tumbling is both disciplined and witty.

Most eye-catching may be Mills, back again as a blue-skinned, rubber-limbed Puck. Mills’s brisk tumbling and spine-bending gyrations easily convince you of this sprite’s magic.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is based on the play by William Shakespeare and adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Ben Cunis. Through Aug. 4 at Synetic Theater. (Courtesy Synetic Theater/The Washington Post)

Mills gets terrific cues from Simes’s enchanted moonlit set, just as the rustic clowns (essentially the same group from 2009) take their vaudevillian hints from heavy red curtains, and the lovers get such a great assist from Simes’s flattering, fashionable costumes. Lortkipanidze’s original music and the sound design by Kavsadze are great drivers, too, ranging from fetching romantic melodies to thumping dance beats.

The adaptation by fight choreographer Ben Cunis and director Paata Tsikurishvili is consistently fleet, with very few draggy spots. Tsikurishvili’s wife, choreographer Irina (who was the fairy queen, Titania, in 2009, now played by Tori Bertocci), creates effective storytelling dances – and it’s the aggregation of talent that seemed so striking when this “Midsummer” was first unveiled.

Synetic has always known how to establish a strong atmosphere, yet this shaped up as a particular sensual pleasure. It was not just energetic and sexy; it was light, big-hearted and magnetic. It still is.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

based on the play by William Shakespeare, adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Ben Cunis. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili. With Ryan Sellers, Chris Galindo, Katie Maguire, Vato Tsikurishvili, Jodi Niehoff, Kathy Gordon, Emily Berry, Elise McDonnel and Zana Gankhuyag. About one hour and 40 minutes. Through Aug. 4 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Crystal City. Call 800-494-8497 or visit synetictheater.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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