Backstage: Synetic tames a 21st-century ‘Shrew’

Correction: A previous version of this article identified “The Taming of the Shrew” as the first comedy in the “Silent Shakespeare” series. It was actually the second comedy in the series. This version has been corrected.


Irina Tsikurishvili and Ryah Sellers in a rehearsal for Synetic Theater's production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” (Yulia Kriskovets)
March 27, 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 only the second 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.”

Saturday to April 22, Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW, www.synetictheatre.org, 703-824-8060.

Theater J’s new works

In a stark contrast to the familiar fare being offered up by many area theaters next year, Theater J’s upcoming season will be “largely defined by doubling down on our commitment” to two major festivals, “Locally Grown” and “Voices From a Changing Middle East,” said Artistic Director Ari Roth.

“It’s kind of a game-changer for us as a theater company, discovering our role in the theater community here and what an important responsibility we feel in being active in generating those new plays. . . . That’s the theme of our season: This is who we are.”

Four of Theater J’s eight plays have their roots in those festivals. Two are from the “Middle East” festival: “Apples From the Desert,” an Israeli play about a teenage girl with a rebellious streak who falls in love with a secular boy she meets at a nightclub in Jerusalem, and “Boged: An Enemy of the People,” about the political cover-up of a chemical leak in a small Israeli desert town.

“Andy and the Shadows,” one of the “Locally Grown” plays, is a world premiere by Roth based on his family history. His mother, born in Berlin, was a hidden child during the Holocaust. “Everybody writes about their experience of inheriting the story of World War II in their own way,” said Roth, who has been working on this play on and off for the past 25 years. “It’s never simple to write about your family, but [‘Andy’] is written with a lot of love and humor.”

“The Hampton Years” is also a world premiere. Set during World War II at Virginia’s historically black Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), the play follows a Jewish professor and two of his students as their artistic efforts are challenged by segregation and wartime.

The season opens in August with “Body Awareness,” directed by Eleanor Holdridge, about a photographer who visits a fictional college in Vermont, bringing with him a shocking exhibit of female nudes. Next up is “Our Class,” a drama based on the true story of 10 Polish classmates, half of whom are Jewish, as they face the Soviet and Nazi invasions.

The season also includes David Mamet’s “Race,” which will open in February, and “Woody Sez: The Words, Music and Spirit of Woody Guthrie,” a celebration of Guthrie’s 100th birthday.

‘First You Dream’ is cast

The Kennedy Center has announced casting for “First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb,” opening June 8. The production — directed by Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and featuring numbers from the songwriting team’s classic musicals, including “Cabaret,” “Chicago” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” — will star Heidi Blickenstaff, James Clow and Matthew Scott. All three were in the original “First You Dream” company at Signature in 2009, where Schaeffer co-conceived the show with David Loud.

Patina Miller, whose performance in “Sister Act” on Broadway earned her a Tony Award, also stars, along with Alan H. Green (“Sister Act” on Broadway) and Leslie Kritzer (“Sondheim on Sondheim,” “Legally Blonde” and “Hairspray” on Broadway).

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