Backstage: Alex Mills at Synetic, Rosemary Prinz at Olney

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"He has no bones," says director Paata Tsikurishvili with a kind of wonderment. He is describing the alarmingly loose-jointed actor Alex Mills, who plays a fantastical, gymnastical Puck in Synetic Theater's wordless "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

According to Mills and fellow Synetic actor Dan Istrate -- who'll play the title role in Synetic's "Dracula" (opening Oct. 16) -- it is the blend of extreme physicality and extreme emotion that draws them to work with artistic director Tsikurishvili and his choreographer wife, Irina. "Midsummer," a reprise of the company's spring production at the Kennedy Center, runs through Oct. 10 at the Rosslyn Spectrum.

"I knew that I wanted to do theater that had more movement in it . . . something inside me wanted to move," says Mills, who was raised in Fredricksburg. He did gymnastics while growing up, but he left college with the goal of pursuing acting.

Last year, Mills had never heard of Synetic, but a friend knew company member Ben Cunis; that lead to Mills's auditioning for "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."

That show was never produced because Tsikurishvili decided instead to revive Synetic's "Host and Guest." Based on a poem from his native Republic of Georgia, it was an act of solidarity during the military skirmish between Georgia and Russia. So "Host and Guest" became Mills's Synetic debut. The movement-loving actor had found a movement-focused company.

Tsikurishvili says he saw in Mills the qualities of a Synetic performer, including an expressive physicality. While Mills appeared in "Host and Guest" and the more recent "Dante," the director says, "I was observing him . . . and I was developing Puck."

To play Shakespeare's changeling, the director adds, "you need someone who has human qualities and creature qualities."

Mills agrees that "finding the balance between human and supernatural was the biggest challenge" for Puck. Plus, he says, he adds a dash of Dennis the Menace for good measure.

"Alex has this innocence that works well for Puck and for Jonathan Harker," the character Mills plays in "Dracula," says Istrate, a veteran of seven Synetic shows and a true native of Transylvania. Istrate has "to go to some very dark places" to play Dracula, or Mephistopheles in "Faust."

In the upcoming "Dracula," Istrate will take on the role originally played by Tsikurishvili. "I'm kind of the same type [as] Paata . . . so I do roles he already did or would like to do," Istrate says. "It's such a satisfaction as an artist to be able to re-create, but with . . ."

Tsikurishvili finishes Istrate's thought: ". . . a different take."

Istrate says Synetic requires more than physical skill and emotional fire, whether a show is done without spoken text, as in the Shakespeare adaptations, or with text, as in "Dracula."

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