Synetic's 'Shrew' scampers with energy
By Peter Marks
Tuesday, Apr. 3, 2012
Dudgeon achieves a sexy new high in the scenery-quaking workouts of Synetic Theater's adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew." The bare-midriffed tantrums of the ageless Irina Tsikurishvili send the actor-dancers flying - and an audience's blood pressure rising - in this hyper-aerobicized 90 minutes of disciplined mayhem.
Under the direction of her adapter-director husband, Paata Tsikurishvili, the intimidatingly well-toned Irina is this production's Katherine, the rich Italian spitfire who terrorizes her suitors with the brute force of her bruising fury. (Irina Kavsadze's leggy temptress of a Bianca seems to further stoke her ire.) On the stage of the Lansburgh Theatre, where "Shrew" had its official opening Sunday night, musical time is measured in the intensity of Kate's tempests and reflected in composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze's percussive, hip-hop score.
"Shrew" is the eighth in Synetic's popular and consistently rewarding series of Shakespeare works enacted without words. In his recent encounters with tragedies such as "Antony and Cleopatra" and comedies such as "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Paata Tsikurishvili has evolved an ever more arresting visual vocabulary for his interpretations. The developing aesthetic culminated in last year's breathtakingly imagistic "King Lear," conjured as a kind of desolate studio back lot in some war-strafed Eastern European city.
With "Shrew," the director makes one of his infrequent forays into warm comedy. (The Synetic canon doesn't include many offerings in which the capable Colin K. Bills's final lighting cue illuminates a smile.)
In this instance, it helps that he has streamlined the story, updating it to celebrity- and body-conscious 2011: We're in a glitzy town called "Paduawood." By doing this and essentially editing out many of the misogynistic overtones, he's given the piece a simple, winning cohesiveness.
The show cooks on Irina Tsikurishvili's portrayal of Katherine, swathed chicly in coal black by set and costume designer Anastasia R. Simes. She's violently put out here by the constant media onslaught, and the attentions her father, Baptista (a hotshot fashion designer played by Hector Reynoso), lavishes on her younger sister, the dishier Bianca.
Padua as a superficial shrine to external beauty was handled with far more finesse by the Shakespeare Theatre Company in director Rebecca Bayla Taichman's memorable 2007 modern-dress production. Here, Paata Tsikurishvili makes obvious, tabloid-fodder jokes of the public brawling engaged in by Katherine; sans spoken language, however, the play struggles to communicate how or why we might sympathize with such behavior. (The wide-eyed clown-style physicality of Synetic's technique runs into trouble whenever it's applied to subtler types of dramatic irony.)
Still, the permutations of Katherine's outrage permit this "Shrew" to transform an emotion into powerful, plot-driving action. In terms of movement as an expression of character, too, the show is one of the strongest Synetic has mounted and, courtesy of Irina Tsikurishvili's choreography, one of the dizziest the company has danced. You have no doubt this angry woman's resolve packs the explosive energy to repel wooers as muscular as Philip Fletcher's Gremio and Vato Tsikurishvili's Hortensio. The romancing of Bianca by Scott Brown's appealingly earnest Lucentio possesses a softer personality, distinguished by the gentler ruse he executes to maximize his face time with her.
Synetic's "Shrew" most closely follows Shakespeare's plot in the famous taming scenes, whereby Ryan Sellers's commanding, physically supple Petruchio tries to quell Katherine's raging soul through an exhausting process of deprivation. After the amusingly handled, quicksilver marriage of Katherine and Petruchio comes a smartly choreographed banquet scene in which everyone dines heartily, except for Katherine. With fruit and cupcakes suspended temptingly on wires just out of reach before her, the scene comes across in this instance as more mischievous than cruel. As a result, Petruchio seems, on this occasion, less off-puttingly tyrannical.
Visually, "Shrew" expands the company's appetite for technology, especially movielike effects. On the tilting geometric panels of Simes's set, projections embroider the narrative, with images of spinning gossip sheets and menacing birds and photos of Katherine, her face contorted madly. Simes uses electric blues, pinks and yellows in her vibrant design palette for the costumes - and a flock's worth of feathers for the avant-garde runway show of Baptista's designs.
Color itself has a bravura role in this "Shrew," for Paata Tsikurishvili gives Sellers's bare-chested, motorcycle-riding Petruchio another useful attribute: He's a painter. It's in both sensual and artistic applications of paint - first in a fight, then on a canvas - that the warring couple discovers their true path to the heart. One wonders whether there are parallels in the collaboration between the Tsikurishvilis themselves: artists who explore love through the turbulent stages of making a play.
Synetic Theater takes on the taming of a 21st-century 'Shrew'
By Jessica Goldstein
Wednesday, Mar. 28, 2012
Paata Tsikurishvili began by asking himself a question: Who in today's world could possibly qualify as a shrew? Tsikurishvili is directing "The Taming of the Shrew," the latest installment in Synetic Theater's "Silent Shakespeare" series, and he wanted a modern take on the old story.
And then, in a genius-is- capturing-the-obvious moment, he thought: Kim Kardashian.
"So many lies, so many rumors," said Tsikurishvili, the company's founding artistic director. "And I thought, this is the perfect story to put in that society."
Synetic's take on Shakespeare's play transports the story to Hollywood-inspired "Paduawood." Bianca is a top model and daughter of one of the world's biggest producers. Her sister, Katherine, like many a frustrated heroine before her, is bored by her glamorous but empty existence. The bohemian artist Petruchio rides into her life on a motorcycle and, well, you know the rest.
Tsikurishvili has given the play's legendary misogyny a contemporary spin as well. In Synetic's production, Katherine and Petruchio "both work out their differences," he said. "They both reach this level that they love each other. It's not like a 'my way or the highway.' They both work to make that happen. And that's life."
Though this is the eighth "Silent Shakespeare" production, it marks the first comedy in the series - though "Romeo and Juliet" featured quite a bit of slapstick. That experience was "kind of my test," said Tsikurishvili. "As I gain more confidence about comedy, I start pushing more. At some point, it is boring to just do dark productions."
He alluded to the beautiful cherry-blossom weather and added: "It's spring and life begins again. I think it's time to have fun."