Synetic Theater's 'Antony and Cleopatra' is silent

Ben Cunis and Irina Tsikurishvili are Antony and Cleopatra in Synetic Theatre's fifth
Ben Cunis and Irina Tsikurishvili are Antony and Cleopatra in Synetic Theatre's fifth "silent Shakespeare." (Photo Illustration By Graeme B. Shaw)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010

When Synetic Theater Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili sets about transforming hundreds of pages of Shakespearean dialogue into the silent -- but utterly emotive -- productions for which his company is known, he begins with what is universal: Love. War. Politics.

"Archetypes," he explained one recent evening during a break in rehearsals from "Antony and Cleopatra," Synetic's newest "silent Shakespeare" production. "That's how I speak from the stage."

And in the case of "Antony and Cleopatra," which runs through Feb. 28 at the Lansburgh Theatre, there are myriad archetypes from which to choose. The rulers at the story's core are legendary symbols of power, and of vanity.

Tsikurishvili and Synetic actors say the process of extracting the action from one of Shakespeare's more complicated plays has been a collaborative experience. Those familiar with the play will find that this telling is heavy on what Tsikurishvili calls "prologue," the back story that will give insight into the motivations of Cleopatra, Mark Antony and Caesar.

"The most important thing in our acting is using the physical body to create a picture of the internal psychology," said Ben Cunis, who plays Mark Antony. "How are we going to show this war? It has to boil down to actions people take."

Though it's Synetic's fifth silent installment, "Antony and Cleopatra" will be a test for the company: The work will be the first staged at the Lansburgh, one of Shakespeare Theatre Company's downtown venues.

Synetic, which is based at Arlington's Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, hopes the new location will translate into new audiences -- namely, the Bard fans who attend the more traditional works staged by Shakespeare Theatre. But there is some hope that the 20- and 30-somethings who eat and shop in Chinatown might find that Synetic's athletic performers, music and tight-fitting costumes speak to them, too.

During the rehearsal, seven young, muscular men tug at ropes in a scene in which they head out to war at sea; choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili, who also plays Cleopatra in the show, counts off.

"Five, six, seven, eight." The men roll, as if tossed by the waters.

"Five, six, seven, eight," she counts again. The men rise in unison.

"Shakespeare is great to watch," Paata Tsikurishvili says softly. "It's not just great to listen. His language describes archetypes, pictures, characters. Everything becomes images."

Antony and Cleopatra Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW. Through Feb. 28. 202-547-1122. $40-$55.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company