Garden of Eden renovated in Synetic Theater’s ‘Genesis Reboot’


From left, Joseph Carlson, Brynn Tucker, Mary Werntz, above, and Austin Johnson in Synetic Theater's “Genesis Reboot.” (Johnny Shryock/Courtesy of Synetic Theater)
February 19, 2012

“Genesis Reboot” asks the metaphysical question: What if God wanted another shot at starting the human race? Because, you know, the first go-round had its bad moments. This time, we return to the whole Garden of Eden blueprint, but the serpent is left out of the plan. Maybe all Adam and Eve need is some solid alone time, and a blissful existence will naturally follow.

Well, wouldn’t you know, no matter how hard the heavenly forces try to prevent it, something always goes wrong when a fallible species is created — especially when profaner spirits can’t keep their hands off. That, anyway, is the tack of “Genesis Reboot’s” director, Ben Cunis, who with brother Peter wrote this modernized fable, an earnest effort that never quite catches fire.

Ben Cunis is a longtime acrobatic standout with Synetic Theater, the company for which he, with the help of its resident choreographer, Irina Tsikurishvili, has mounted this production, one of a pair Synetic calls its “New Movements” works. (The other is the forthcoming “Light in the Darkness” from the Czech Republic’s Tantehorse mime theater. It’s encouraging that Synetic’s artistic director, Paata Tsikurishvili, is relaxing some of the directorial control he’s ably exerted for years and providing an expanded creative role for Cunis, who’s been a key player in the troupe since his debut as Macduff in Synetic’s 2007 “Macbeth.”

Perhaps now Paata Tsikurishvili will permit “Reboot” a reboot, too, because the production is in need of a clearer path. While the story of Eden II is fleshed out with energetic earnestness — thanks largely to Brynn Tucker’s fetching Eve and Austin Johnson’s callow Adam — an accompanying version of Cain (Matthew Ward) and Abel (Jefferson Farber) provides a strange counterpoint. The brothers together have entered some sort of cosmic penitentiary where Abel is happy to remain and Cain is itching to escape. Abel also exhibits an odd compulsion to stroke his uniform. It’s too murky to reckon what the Cunises are getting at.

The dark real-world rationale for the piece is apt enough: a creeping contemporary sense that the survival of the planet is in danger, a jeopardy intensified by human recklessness. In “Genesis Reboot,” that threatened extinction seems to have occurred, with an angel (Mary Werntz) arriving to give humanity a second chance. Animating the primordial goo of this new Eden with electric jolts, she presides over a new and improved Tree of Knowledge, made of discarded electronic parts and other detritus of the modern age. It’s wittily assembled in Synetic’s Crystal City theater by set designer Daniel Pinha.

Adam spends his days naming things, and Eve tails along moonily. You can guess how events turn — and what kind of forbidden fruits surface — after a sinewy demon (Joseph Carlson) materializes from a trap door in the stage floor.

The umbrella title under which the show is presented, “New Movements,” is a bit misleading because the evening is more talk than action. (Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography is, for once, sporadic and disappointing.)

Worrisome, too, is the reinforcing here of Synetic’s sometime tendency to take on a big, portentous subject without a fully functioning narrative. Maybe the company should change up more often and tackle topics with a larger quantity of helium than lead.

Genesis Reboot, by Ben Cunis and Peter Cunis. Directed by Ben Cunis. Choreography, Irina Tsikurishvili; lighting, Andrew F. Griffin; costumes, Kristy Hall; original music and sound, Clint Herring. About 90 minutes. Through March 3 at Synetic Theater at Crystal City, 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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