Synetic Theater's 'Macbeth' Leaves the Actors Speechless

Irakli Kavsadze and Irina Tsikurishvili in a wordless tango of death in Synetic Theater's
Irakli Kavsadze and Irina Tsikurishvili in a wordless tango of death in Synetic Theater's "Macbeth." (By Stan Barouh)

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By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 22, 2007

The days have dwindled to a precious few to see Synetic Theater's visually stunning and emotionally resonant production of "Macbeth," the company's wordless interpretation of Shakespeare's dark exploration of the lust for power and the madness it creates.

How can Shakespeare be performed without words? As it did with its early masterpiece a few years back, the speechless "Hamlet . . . the Rest is Silence," Synetic expresses Shakespeare's poetry through startling visual imagery, richly detailed movement and stirring music. 'Tis a tale well told, each image created onstage worth many words, if not quite a thousand. And it's certainly worth a look before it closes Sunday afternoon.

Currently riding high with 10 Helen Hayes Award nominations for its productions last year, including three of the five nominations in the choreography category for Irina Tsikurishvili's works ("The Dybbuk," "Faust" and "Frankenstein"), the innovative Arlington-based troupe continues to evolve into a major theatrical force. It even has a presence on YouTube.com, where you can see video excerpts from this show created by Alex Khripunov.

Director Paata Tsikurishvili and co-adaptor Nathan Weinberger waste no time startling the audience, beginning the story of a Scottish general's bloody quest for power with explosively provocative imagery that indicts religion as a curse on humanity. In place of Shakespeare's witches stirring a caldron of troubles, we have a priest (Katherine E. Hill), an imam (Philip Fletcher) and a rabbi (Meghan Grady) performing sinister rites while hovering over a globe. They conjure up sensuous spirits from the netherworld roiling just below Earth's surface to haunt the steady soldier Macbeth (Irakli Kavsadze) and his wife, Lady Macbeth (Irina Tsikurishvili, who also choreographs).

Purists may be concerned that Synetic is showing us a Macbeth who is less driven by a power-hungry and manipulative wife than he is an eager partner in the killing spree. But this interpretation allows Kavsadze and Tsikurishvili to draw each other into a powerful vortex of seduction that begins as teasing play and relentlessly mutates into unappeasable lust for power. The two literally tango their way into murder as they feed each other's deadly desires and assassinate King Duncan (Dan Istrate). Once the throne is theirs, the Macbeths are consumed by fear of the dark energies they have unleashed and are drawn inexorably into a cycle of murder and revenge.

The depictions of the two central characters are unique. Tsikurishvili is determined yet alluring, and unexpectedly vulnerable as Lady Macbeth. Kavsadze gives us a purposefully ungainly and hulking Macbeth who is ruled by his compulsions at least as much as his ambitions.

It is sexy and creepy all at once. Writhing spirits prowl the stage in bubbling vapors, moving luxuriously to Tsikurishvili's sinuous choreography. Anastasia Ryurikov Simes's scenic design is lush but provides an atmosphere of paranoia with fog cut by flashlight beams and blazing sniper fire.

It's a world of blacks, blood-reds and grays, with overhead chains that anchor on the stage floor. Giant slabs of "metal" are riveted together to form a rough proscenium, expanding Shakespeare's world into a timeless post-Industrial Age setting. Konstantine Lortkipanidze's original music is compelling and beautiful, but with eerie scuttling sounds that evoke the dancing of evil claws. At one point, it sounds as though bagpipes are being run through a blender, which ruffles the nerves and enhances an unsettling moment. The music, with its electronic sounds mixed in, and the choreography gradually become more aggressive. Strains of hip-hop, jazz and even martial tones surface, particularly as Macduff's (Ben Cunis) frenzied wrath over the murder of his family builds into savage strength for his deadly battle with Macbeth.

Running about 90 minutes and performed without intermission, this "Macbeth" is intense and exhilarating.

"Macbeth," performed by Synetic Theater, concludes this weekend at the Rosslyn Spectrum, 1611 N. Kent St., Arlington. Performances at 8 tonight, Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and information, call 703-824-8060 or visithttp://www.synetictheater.org. Tickets are $25-$35; students, $15.


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