Nearly everything Synetic Theater does could be called “Fast and Furious,” and the movement-based troupe’s relentless new “The Three Musketeers” opens with a tiger pounce as four actors leap out of the darkness toward the audience. Explosive music accompanies the frenzied sword fight; it looks and sounds like a movie trailer for a summer blockbuster.
Who are these characters? Doesn’t matter. Whirl. Clang. Spin. Punch. Zow! This is how Synetic rolls: The playwright, Ben Cunis (who adapted the famed Alexandre Dumas novel with his brother Peter), not only plays the dashing musketeer Athos, he also does the fight choreography. That’s not vanity. It simply describes the skill set, and the company mind-set. How, they ask, can the story move?
Unlike the “silent Shakespeare” productions (all motion, no speaking) that have won Synetic so much acclaim, “Musketeers” features plenty of talking, and the Cunis brothers’ dialogue sometimes manages a kind of cornball charm. Ben Cunis delivers a wry, Kevin Kline-ish performance as the suave but drunken Athos, and Hector Reynoso’s blustery turn as the plus-sized musketeer Porthos is part of why this light-spirited “Musketeers” occasionally puts you in mind of “The Princess Bride.”
Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s plus-sized production has 16 actors creating crisscrossing mayhem on Synetic’s Crystal City stage. (Don’t even think of going if you’re not in the mood for more than two hours of almost manic adventure.) The first swashbuckling act comes off like half-popped popcorn, but you have to giggle at the unapologetic hamminess served up after intermission.
If Cunis infectiously enjoys himself as a comic hero, Dan Istrate performs with no less relish as the dastardly, power-grabbing Cardinal Richelieu. The red leather robes and kinky black corset by designer Anastasia R. Simes (who also did the multilevel set that’s so ripe for chase scenes) gives Istrate something wicked to live up to, and the actor responds with a creepy turn that pushes the show toward a pulpy edge.
But wait — there’s another villain, and this one dances! Irina Tsikurishvili, as the spidery Milady, tangos with Istrate (Milady’s in cahoots with the Cardinal), spins with Cunis (Milady and Athos used to be married — long story) and drop-kicks rivals with the aggression of a ticked-off Angelina Jolie.
Silly? Yes, but then we haven’t even come to Robert Bowen Smith’s gaudy, low comic vamp as the mincing menace King Louis XIII, resplendent in an all-white, open-collar getup that slightly recalls a latter-day Elvis. None of this is simple, and it rarely looks easy. The actors are in a full sweat mere moments into the show, and while the athleticism is part of what typically impresses with Synetic, so is the discipline. The punches and swordplay are quick, and the tumbling is fearless. Dallas Tolentino is winningly cheerful as the young musketeer-in-training D’Artagnan, but the hallmark of his performance — and of the show — is soaring jumps and nailed landings.
The production revs with sensory appeal, from Brittany Diliberto’s rock concert lighting design to the sinister/bombastic music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze. This is Synetic at full throttle, although fueled far more by energy than wit. This “Musketeers” isn’t stupid, but it’s exhausting; while some audiences will be thrilled by the restless propulsion, it’s fair to wonder if this one-of-a-kind troupe is in danger of getting stuck with its foot on the gas pedal.
by Alexandre Dumas. Adapted by Ben and Peter Cunis. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili. Choreography, Irina Tsikurishvili; sound design, Thomas Sowers. With Matthew Ward, Brittany O’Grady, Brynn Tucker, Peter Pereyra, Mitchell Grant, Vato Tsikurishvili, Zana Gankhuyag, Rebecca Hausman, Kathy Gordon and Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly. About 2 1 / 2 hours. Through June 9 at 1800 S. Bell St., Crystal City. Call 800-494-8497 or visit synetictheater.org.