The spectral beauty of Tsikurishvili’s “Lear” is unlike any of his previous attempts at staging Shakespeare’s plays without any of Shakespeare’s dialogue. Visually and choreographically, the piece, presented in the Lansburgh Theatre, coheres even more seamlessly than in past efforts, and the 95-minute play flows with an assurance of tone and style that satisfyingly builds on and refines the troupe’s one-of-a-kind aesthetic.
In previous installments of this signature Synetic genre, a performance or two betokened the emergence of one or another member of this aggressively athletic ensemble: Alex Mills’s rubbery Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” comes to mind, as does Ben Cunis’s debut as a ninja Macduff in Synetic’s earlier “Macbeth.” Here, however, although Irakli Kavsadze’s sad hobo-king makes for a monarch you can feel for, the production itself is the star. And the 15-member cast meshes in technique and affect in ways that fully invigorate the concept.
Granted, the metaphor is not gentle. “Lear” as a killing field pocked with bombed-out modern buildings out of a scene from “The Hurt Locker” feels at times like a mallet delivering mighty blows to a thumbtack. Still, Tsikurishvili, with the indispensable assistance of his choreographer wife, Irina, wants us to consider that “Lear” is not so subtle, either. There is indeed a direct descent into hell in “Lear”: no shilly-shallying as with that fence-straddling prince of Denmark; no encounters with insecurity as suffered by that marauding thane in Scotland.
“Lear,” by contrast, charts the arrogant king’s abrupt downfall after he foolishly bases his choices for dividing up his kingdom on his elder daughters’ phony supplications. The fatal cocktail of Lear’s vanity, mixed with the daughters’ undiluted malevolence, takes us with them slam-bang into the darkness.
This “Lear” wisely plays in softer ways with the overarching conceit, and the manner in which images of hardness and delicacy intermingle will have you musing long after the lights come up. As has become customary, composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze provides the soundscape, this time alternately harsh and plaintive, and aside from the occasional grunt or shriek from an actor, that is all the help for the ear you receive.
Lear’s lapse into a second childhood after his brutal rejection at the hands of Goneril (Ira Koval) and Regan (Irina Tsikurishvili) is handled in a tenderly mimed scene: Black-cloaked Death (Renata Loman) dangles a red butterfly on a string just beyond Lear’s grasp, and he pursues it with a joy no longer accessible in other corners of his realm. His dreams are now of innocence and freedom, for soon he will reenter, pulling a tricycle and carrying a butterfly net.