With ‘Home of the Soldier,’ Synetic Theater’s on foreign terrain

In Synetic Theater’s new war drama “Home of the Soldier,” the bodies pile up, but unfortunately, so do the cliches. This 90-minute dance-play, about a young man who enlists in the military to save his father — a general who has been captured by an enemy wearing gauzy, free-flowing netting — is a whole album of echoes. As a result, it never reverberates with an identity of its own.

Borrowing liberally from such varied films and plays as “Apocalypse Now,” “Rambo” and “Black Watch,” the show, directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, is a departure from much of Synetic’s repertory. The company, based in Crystal City, has made a name transforming the classics, and primarily Shakespeare, into galvanizing hybrids of pantomime, modern dance and martial arts moves. As recently as this spring, in its hyper-energetic “Taming of the Shrew,” Synetic showed its prowess in distilling, in wordless style, the emotional core of a play.

In its attempt to cobble together an original story, the company has entered foreign terrain. The awkwardly titled “Home of the Soldier” — why not a name that sounds more colloquial? “War Dance”? — wanders this way and that, trying out various conceits and then discarding them, in service of its hackneyed plotting. Squandered in the process are choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili’s evocative dance sequences, including a fine number incorporating western line dancing. (The piece could use more of these and fewer of its interchangeable battle scenes.)

Ben Cunis’s script presents us with an intense young man played by Vato Tsikurishvili, Paata and Irina’s son, who witnesses his father’s battlefield abduction via Skype (and designer Riki K’s cool videos). Soon, he’s going through basic training; the calisthenics provide a good rationale for some disciplined movement in unison by the men and women portraying the military personnel.

The war’s location remains vague, especially because the enemy, led by Jodi Niehoff in the role of a character called “Native Mother,” seems more preoccupied with exotic fashion statements than political ones.

We’ve seen the chest-bumping, adrenaline-pumping sort of troop bonding depicted in “Home of the Soldier” so many times that the interludes merely feel imitative of better, nimbler evenings. This one might be more effective if it played more consistently to the company’s strengths and didn’t try so hard to look and sound like every other war story.

Home of the Soldier

by Ben Cunis. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili. Choreography, Cunis and Irina Tsikurishvili; set, Daniel Pinha; lighting, Andrew F. Griffin; costumes, Laree Lentz; music direction, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; multimedia, Riki K; sound, Irakli Kavsadze. With Joseph Carlson, Austin Johnson, Victoria Bertocci, Matthew Ward, Zana Gankhuyag, Dallas Tolentino. About 90 minutes. Through July 1 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. Visit www.synetictheater.org or call 800-494-8497.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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