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Tsikurishvili, Back In the Laboratory

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 11, 2005; Page C05

In his original theater piece, "Bohemians," Synetic Theater's Paata Tsikurishvili intends to piece together fragments of human history from molecules to machines, "from the chaos to the cosmos." He describes the 70-minute "experiment" as an avant-garde "tragic farce." It will run Jan. 14 to March 6 at Classika Theatre in Arlington.

"We are sending machines to the moon and Mars. At the same time, we are killing each other here," Tsikurishvili says. "The audience who knows me, I thought I might give them something that requires more thinking."

Jodi Niehoff, Catherine Gasta and Irina Tsikurishvili as test-tube fetuses in "Bohemians," a movement-based examination of human history. (Classika-synetic Productions)

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That from the actor-director who, with his wife, dancer-choreographer Irina, has adapted to his unique theatrical style "Hamlet," "The Master and Margarita" and the Georgian epic poem "Host and Guest" -- hardly Mickey Mouse fare.

Tsikurishvili says he took inspiration from Greek mythology, biblical texts and trends in modern art, then filtered the result through his movement-focused approach, which he also calls "cinematic." The only dialogue will be when his small cast embodies the Tower of Babel. A wall-to-wall soundtrack will feature large dollops of his favorite contemporary Georgian composer, Giya Kancheli.

The play, Tsikurishvili says, is "about just being and what we achieve. . . . I allow myself to experiment [with] impressionism, cubism . . . absurdity also is there, and surrealism."

In one scene, cloned embryos come to life. At a rehearsal, Irina Tsikurishvili and some of the cast members (including Catherine Gasta and Greg Marzullo) portrayed the fetuses, moving and growing while attached to huge silver umbilical ducts tended by a scientist. "If we can create humans, then we are losing our spiritual sight," the director says.

Since Synetic's merger in August with Arlington-based Classika, Tsikurishvili says he now works with a budget of about $2 million and has formed a company of about 20 actors who are learning his theater "vocabulary."

"When they stick with us, they start thinking like we do," he says.

'Fallen From Proust'

Norman Allen got the idea for his triangular, and occasionally rectangular, relationship comedy "Fallen From Proust" about a decade ago while working in the Shakespeare Theatre's development office. "A bunch of us were . . . talking about how gay men often have closer friendships with straight women than straight men do. . . . From that, we started bouncing ideas around," he says.

The play is having its premiere run at Signature Theatre (where Allen is a resident playwright) tonight through Feb. 20. Backstage has been entreated not to reveal plot twists but can safely say it involves a couple named Gary and Michelle, a guy named Roger and another named Alan. One of the four is a gay Republican.

In its evolution, says Allen, "Fallen From Proust" has gained "a lot more heart," a good deal of which he credits director Will Pomerantz ("The Shape of Things" at Studio) with finding.

Allen's works include the contemporary relationship drama "In the Garden," which won the 2002 Helen Hayes Award as outstanding new play, the historic profile "Nijinsky's Last Dance" and plays for young audiences such as "The Light of Excalibur." His works have no villains. "The key word for me is always 'empathy,' " Allen says.

If "Fallen From Proust" is "about anything 'big,' it's about how you cannot put people in pigeonholes," he says. The recent election and the red-state/blue-state split convinced him even further. "That's only based on a majority. All the states should be purple," Allen says, adding that in his play, "the gay Republican is a sympathetic character."

Signature's Sweet 15

A thousand Signature Theatre fans spent Saturday evening in musical theater heaven as a cast of about 30 performers sang songs from the roles they'd played in 25 past Signature shows. The benefit concert celebrating the company's 15th season was held at Northern Virginia Community College's Schlesinger Center in Alexandria. Emcee Kathie Lee Gifford noted that "the only time I got a good review" was when Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer guided her in "Putting It Together" on Broadway.

A few highlights: Donna Migliaccio, who co-founded the theater with Schaeffer, got a big ovation before she sang a note. She later belted "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from "Gypsy" and offered "A Little Priest" to Marc Kudisch in the comic duet from "Sweeney Todd." Sherri L. Edelen sang "Colored Lights" from "The Rink" and Tracy Lynn Olivera "The Gentleman Is a Dope" from "Allegro." Kudisch, who played Vincent van Gogh in "The Highest Yellow," was cheered for his rendering of the title song. Rick Hammerly, in drag, rocked through two numbers from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." The whole cast sang "Putting It Together" from "Sunday in the Park With George," led by music director Jon Kalbfleisch.

Follow Spots

• Director, teacher and actor Kenneth Daugherty, a founding board member of African Continuum Theatre Company, died Dec. 23. Early in his career, Daugherty performed, taught and stage-managed for the legendary DC Black Rep, according to ACTCo Artistic Director Jennifer L. Nelson. He worked at Arena Stage, Studio Theatre, the Lincoln Theatre and Howard University and once served as chairman of the theater department at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. "He had a deep influence on a number of local young artists and will be missed by all of us who knew and worked with him," Nelson wrote in an e-mail.

• The Theater Alliance, in collaboration with the Madcap Players, is presenting its Winter Carnival of New Works, a collection of 10-minute plays and mini-musicals by Washington-based artists, Thursday through Jan. 23 at the H Street Playhouse. Call 1-800-494-8497 or visit www.theateralliance.com.

• Actor Kevin Burke will replace Chris Sullivan this Thursday in "Defending the Caveman," now in an extended run at the Rosslyn Spectrum. Sullivan is moving on to do "Caveman" in Chicago.

• Michael Dempsey will play the title role in the Kennedy Center's March 12-April 3 production of "Mister Roberts," about the first officer on a World War II supply ship who is desperate to join the real fighting. Dempsey understudied the role of Edmund Tyrone in the recent Broadway revival of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and played Tom Joad in a PBS production of "The Grapes of Wrath." The play is part of the center's festival "A New America: The 1940s and the Arts."

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