Synetic Theater’s ‘Hamlet’ is wordless, but there’s plenty good to say about the play


Irina Kavsadze as Ophelia in Synetic Theater’s “Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence.” (Koko Lanham)

How has Synetic Theater performed Shakespeare without words for the past dozen years? Here’s a snapshot from the current revival of “Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence,” the innovative hit that launched the troupe:

As the show begins, Gertrude and Claudius lead an elegant court dance that fills Synetic’s Crystal City stage. The choreography is smooth and properly majestic for a royal wedding, but suddenly, the very recent widow and her too-new husband hunch their backs and mince wickedly. It’s like watching spiders dance, and you think: Of course — that must be what Hamlet sees.

Translating the greatest plays in the English language into stories told through movement is a preposterously tall order. Yet “Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence,” as the company titles this 90-minute sprint, indicates how Synetic has kept it up through “King Lear,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and more — 10 in all, with “Much Ado About Nothing” slated for next year. The spat between Hamlet and Polonius is boiled down to a few economical gestures that cleverly sum up Hamlet’s disdain for the old fool. The entrance of Hamlet’s dead father calls for an impossibly long, spectral stride that Philip Fletcher performs with creepy flair.

Director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili, the husband and wife who founded the troupe and originally starred as Hamlet and Ophelia, dream up no end of striking images while demanding (and getting) pinpoint precision from the troupe. See poor Ophelia drown, or behold Gertrude watching Hamlet go mad: The Tsikurishvilis know how to freshly dramatize these famed anguished states, and they are uncannily at home with the phantasmagoria of “Hamlet.” (The ghost’s comings and goings are particularly neat.)

What’s new, since this debuted in 2002 at the small Church Street Theater and was revived in 2007 at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater? The ever-riveting Irina Tsikurishvili is now playing Gertrude, and Paata is not on stage at all.

Synetic Theater presents “Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence” through April 6. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili and starring Alex Mills, Philip Fletcher, Irina Tsikurishvili and Irina Kavsadze. (Winyan Soo Hoo/The Washington Post)

“Maybe Uncle Hamlet,” the director joked from the stage on opening night, clearly feeling wistful about handing off a favorite part.

Company veteran Alex Mills brings his own limber muscularity to the role, luring Hamlet’s quick, dark humor to the fore. It’s unusual for an actor playing Hamlet not to get the final bow, yet Mills doesn’t. (He shares it.) That doesn’t seem to be a knock on his performance. Instead, it may be a recognition that as a character, Hamlet — nothing if not a complicated thinker — loses serious layers without the words. That’s a rub you regret during the show’s last half-hour.

But it also indicates the depth and consistency of the talent pool the Tsikurishvilis have attracted. Mills, Fletcher, Irina Tsikurishvili, Irakli Kavsadze as Claudius, Irina Kavsadze as Ophelia, Irina Koval as the Player Queen — these performers and more bolt in and out of view, always etching clean impressions. It’s a full sensory experience as thumping music alternates with dread silence, and as moody lights carve beams in an atmosphere pocked with blackness that seems to swallow actors whole.

In other words, it’s ripe for repertory and revival, one of this Shakespeare-mad city’s true signature shows. So perhaps it’s simply to be that, like the ghost, this “Hamlet” will continue to materialize now and then.

Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili. Original set, costumes and props, Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili; lights, Brittany Diliberto; sound design, Irakli Kavsadze. With Hector Reynoso, Scott Brown, Lorne Britt, Zana Gankhuyag, Randy Snight, Vato Tsikurishvili, Janine Baumgardner and Emily Whitworth. About 90 minutes. Through April 6 at Synetic Theater Crystal City, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. Tickets start at $35, subject to change. Call 866-811-4111 or visit synetictheater.org.

Nelson Pressley has been writing about theater and other arts – but mostly theater – for the Post since 1999.
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