Synetic branches out with ‘Three Men in a Boat’


Synetic Theater is adding dialogue to the dance with its four-man production of “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).” (Johnny Shryock/Synetic Theater)

Synetic Theater often seems more like a tight-knit family than a professional theater company. Founded 12 years ago by the husband-and-wife team of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, the local troupe is acclaimed for its movement-centric, often dialogue-free productions that showcase the same small stable of sinewy actors again and again (including the couple’s son, Vato).

That makes the casting of Synetic’s upcoming play, “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog),” all the more surprising. Three of the four characters will be played by newcomers, including Tom Story and Tim Getman, actors better known for verbal acrobatics at Shakespeare Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth than for the physical feats Synetic is known for. The move is a concerted effort by the Tsikurishvilis to collaborate more in the local theater scene.

“I want to make sure the theater community can step in at Synetic and they can try something unusual, something they’re excited about,” says Paata Tsikurishvili, Synetic’s artistic director, who also hopes the new partnerships will spur surprises for audiences.

One surprise that’s already in store for fans getting a little too comfortable with the troupe’s Silent Shakespeare series: dialogue.

“Often in Synetic’s work, the text is there as a ghost,” says “Three Men” director Derek Goldman. But that’s not the case here. The play is based on Jerome K. Jerome’s 1889 novella, a comical, chatty travelogue about a group of men (and one canine) seeking adventure along the Thames.

But this is Synetic, after all. Goldman, who also wrote the script for the adaptation, is working with Irina Tsikurishvili to choreograph the show’s extensive movement.

“At first I thought it would be wonderfully talky and language-based, and then there would be a few episodes where it transitions into movement, and that’s actually not quite true,” Goldman says. “There’s movement in all kinds of subtle ways, and [we’re] finding the expressive language of the piece and where that wants to be heightened.”

The choreography has been a challenge for actors more accustomed to working from the neck up, but they’re plunging in.

“Actors like Tom and Tim are asked to use only a portion of their expressive potential and their gifts,” Goldman says. “This is what artists in this town are hungry for: working in ways that stretch them and stretch their capacity as storytellers. Not just: ‘I do this well so hire me to do it again.’ ”

Synetic already has plans to bring in more collaborators. Studio Theatre’s Serge Seiden, for one, will direct Paata Tsikurishvili in “Hunting Cockroaches” next year.

Seiden should have a lot to look forward to. For newcomers to Synetic, there’s less of a learning curve than a pleasant surprise, Goldman says.

“There’s an ethic that I so value, and it feels candidly like an ethic that’s rare in the institutionalized professional theater in the U.S.,” the director says. “It’s the ethic of ‘the art comes first.’

“Their way of working has protected fiercely the idea of invention and artistry in a live form.”

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Wednesday through June 8. Synetic Theater,
1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. 866-811-4111. www.synetictheater.org. $10-$55.

Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies, theater and art for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. She’s also the section’s de facto expert on yoga, gluten-free dining and bicycle commuting.
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