Editors' pick



Editorial Review

'Macbeth': Spooky, silent Shakespeare

By Celia Wren
Monday, Sept. 26, 2011

If there were a Williams-Sonoma for witches, the cauldron in Synetic Theater's wordless "Macbeth" would be a bestseller. Consider: In an early moment of this darkly incantatory production, Shakespeare's Weird Sisters roam a desolate battlefield strewn with corpses. With the casting of a spell, the cadavers rise and form a shuddering human crucible - a vessel generating the predictions that tempt Macbeth toward disaster. The diabolical version of a Le Creuset casserole first spews out an epaulet, signaling a thaneship, then a crown, signaling you know what. Could any item of occult cookware be more efficient and macabre?

The black artistry of this cauldron in some ways parallels the alchemy Synetic has worked on Shakespeare's Scottish play: The cauldron is made of bodies, and this version of "Macbeth" consists largely of a dancelike but fiercely athletic (and even combative) physicality. The witches' Crock-Pot yields a prophecy that's eerie but true to the future (Macbeth does get that thaneship and crown); Synetic's mute choreographic technique infuses the Bard's story with a hypnotic strangeness while tracking the original script quite faithfully.

None of this will be news to those who saw Synetic's "Macbeth" when the theater created it in 2007. The idiosyncratic interpretation nabbed five Helen Hayes Awards, including honors for director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili. Those artists contribute to this revival, which kicks off "Speak No More," a festival of encores of Synetic's Silent Shakespeares. ("Othello" runs Oct. 19-Nov. 6, and "Romeo and Juliet" is Nov. 25-Dec. 23.)

Also returning are many of the lead actors, including Irakli Kavsadze as a pugnacious but hapless Macbeth; Irina Tsikurishvili as his seductive and near-demonic wife; and Philip Fletcher, who pocketed a Helen Hayes for his turn as a witch. Konstantine Lortkipanidze's original music - with its ominous percussion and droning, whistling sounds - again haunts the action.

The earlier "Macbeth" did its deeds at the Rosslyn Spectrum, but the new venue, in Crystal City, makes an apt cradle for the play's spooky, martial atmospherics. On the steeply raked stage, set designer Anastasia R. Simes has established an oversize central throne that looks like a fortress drawbridge, framed by a proscenium that resembles stitched-together plates of chain mail.

The brutality inherent in this visual picture erupts into the open when the Witches (Fletcher, Mary Werntz and Sarah Taurchini) slither out of holes in the floor and appear to kill, and take the place of, a pope, a rabbi and an imam, who had been praying around a large globe. The religious references feel a little layered-on and preachy - an unnecessary reach for relevance - but the proceedings rejoin Shakespeare's script as the battle breaks out.

Violence lurks in everything - for instance, in the determined, yearning movements and hard-eyed expressions of Tsikurishvili's Lady Macbeth, who joins the Witches in a pas de quatre and, at another point, raises her boot to Macbeth's shoulder and topples him to the ground. Even the production's color scheme has ferocity: With an exception or two, the costumes, including the men's vaguely fascist military uniforms, and Lady Macbeth's raven-colored gown and scarlet gloves, are black, red or white. (Simes is also the costume designer.)

Lighting designer Colin K. Bills heightens the visual drama with a pulse-quickening chiaroscuro, full of murky depths and misty glaring. Sometimes the stage goes dark, except for flashlights held by the actors.

The show boasts a little humor: When courtiers wearing metallic masks prepare for, and consume, a banquet, their movements are jerky and robotic, as if tyranny had turned them into automatons. But what this "Macbeth" conveys overall - particularly with its choreographic approach, rich in circling movements - is a vision of one grim action gliding irresistibly into the next, as if the saga were a bleak dance that the dancers cannot leave. That sense of inexorable flow is, of course, the essence of tragedy.

Backstage: 'Macbeth'

By Jessica Goldstein
Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011

There are two kinds of Shakespeare lovers. There are those who believe his works ought to be preserved, as if encased in glass. And then there are people like Paata Tsikurishvili.

Tsikurishvili is co-founder, with wife Irina, of the Arlington-based Synetic Theater, whose mission is to tell stories through movement and music, not words. Back in 2002, when he announced plans for Synetic's first Silent Shakespeare production, "Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence," he says, "I had some friends say, 'How dare you touch this! It's Shakespeare.' "

The argument against wordless Shakespeare is obvious: Like stashing the Little Mermaid's song inside a seashell, stripping Hamlet of his soliloquy would rob the play of the very thing that makes it exceptional.

Tsikurishvili followed through on his vision, and "Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence" won six Helen Hayes awards in 2003. Synetic's "Macbeth," which opens Wednesday night, features returning cast members from the original 2008 staging, which also made out bandit-style at the Helen Hayes awards, winning five.

"We proved that Shakespeare is not only words," he said. "It's about metaphor, his themes, his [humanity], thirst, blood, power, love. . . . It's powerful, and power is the action. That's what we do."

Tsikurishvili grew up in Soviet Georgia and was a young man as the Soviet Union was collapsing. He met his wife, Synetic's resident choreographer, when she auditioned for the Georgian State Pantomime Theater, where he worked. Within months they were married. He was 23, she was 18. "It was just like Romeo and Juliet," Tsikurishvili says.

They eventually came to Washington and started their own theater in 2001. "Synetic" is a combination of "synthesis" and "kinetic."

Ryan Sellers, who plays Banquo, said the audience response "is a grab bag. . . . A lot of the older generation doesn't like it. . . . But the younger generation responds to the high pace of it." Synetic's "Macbeth" clocks in at 90 minutes with no intermission - instead of the customary 21 / 2 to 3 hours.

Tsikurishvili insists that the text, though unheard, is always present. "We are not ignoring it. We are absorbing it."

Irakli Kavsadze, the actor playing Macbeth, agrees: "Those words drive my body, my hands, my eyes, my mouth. Everything."