Synetic’s wordless ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is rambunctious and sexy

Show of hands: Never been to one of Synetic Theater’s no words, all action adventures? Half the crowd at Wednesday night’s “Romeo and Juliet” performance in Crystal City reported that they were indeed first-timers. That seems remarkable, given Synetic’s sensational rise over the past decade, and it vindicates Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s strategy to spend this fall reprising three of the company’s hit wordless Shakespeare stagings.

Like “Macbeth” and “Othello,” “Romeo and Juliet” showcases Synetic doing its rambunctious, sexy thing. Buff actors in flattering costumes tumble and whirl, kiss and clash. (Synetic’s fight scenes are the fastest in town, and its romances can be blushingly va-va-voom.) Colored lights carve shapes through dense stage fog. Music pulses and pounds. It looks like an iPod commercial and sounds like the club you can’t get into after midnight.

The acting is a combination of exaggerated silent-screen technique and high-class acrobatics. It’s Shakespeare in very broad strokes — these star-crossed lovers meet their doom in a clean 90 minutes — but Tsikurishvili usually has an intriguing visual idea or two up his sleeve.

Here, it’s not so much the clockwork cogs that dominate Anastasia R. Simes’s set, even though it threatens to crush the poor kids in giant gears carried and spun by actors. It’s the sudden clarity of the drama’s set pieces: the way Romeo and Juliet get isolated at the ball, for instance, dropping their masks and mooning as Ryan Sellers’s glowering Tybalt, bent on driving the Montague-Capulet feud, begins to stalk them from upstage. (The sinister underscoring by composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze adds a major layer of dread.)

The lovers’ tryst is depicted in silhouette, with a single hand-held light swinging to and fro and casting the young bodies in sharp relief. Here and throughout this production, the impetuosity of the teen romantics feels right: They act before they think. Glances lead to dances and it’s physical real quick, with Alex Mills and Natalie Berk snaking around one another in rapturous wonder.

For slapstick comedy, see Philip Fletcher’s irrepressibly bawdy Mercutio tossing Irina Tsikurishvili’s Nurse around like a sack of flour — and her returning the favor. As always with this well-drilled troupe, the speed and strength are killer good.

Synetic’s stage vocabulary may be growing familiar, especially with its Shakespearean adaptations, but the precision and flair are impressively consistent. It has earned its laurels. Yet why rest? Indeed, new material is slated for the coming months, and it will be interesting to see what fresh tricks Synetic has up its sleeve.

Pressley is a freelance writer.

Romeo and Juliet

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili. Original music, Konstantine Lortkipanidze. Choreography, Irina Tsikurishvili; set and costumes, Anastasia R. Simes; lights, Colin K. Bills; sound design, Lortkipanidze and Irakli Kavsadze. With Scott Brown, Peter Pereyra, Salma Shaw, Irakli Kavsadze, Vato Tsikurishvili, Mary Werntz and Sarah Taurchini. About 90 minutes. Through Dec. 23 at Synetic Theater at Crystal City, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. Call 800-494-8497 or visit synetictheater.org.

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.
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