The Master and Margarita, Synetic Theater

By Nelson Pressley
Friday, November 19, 2010; 8:44 AM

The performers of Synetic Theater seem to have made up their minds about what they are: rock stars.

Synetic's new production of "The Master and Margarita" at the Lansburgh Theatre is an extravaganza of thundering music, outlandish costumes, bold lighting and lithe, often semi-clad actors who can move like bizarre hell-driven creatures and contort themselves like circus freaks.

They are masters of sensation, this uniquely disciplined troupe, which has successfully offered vibrant, wordless stagings of Shakespeare from "Hamlet" to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (a blissfully funny production that the company will revive briefly in January). "The Master and Margarita" is Roland Reed's adaptation of Soviet novelist Mikhail Bulgakov's 1930s anti-totalitarian saga, and the fable of creative and religious oppression provides the grandiose heights and depths Synetic requires to showcase its trademark dynamism.

Synetic shows are always powered in one way or another by the husband and wife team of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, with Paata (the artistic director) typically at the helm and Irina (the house choreographer) frequently on stage. Here they star together as the title characters, an anguished writer (the master) who has dared to pen a Christian book under atheistic rule, and his love and muse (Margarita).

As performers, the Tsikurishvilis - emigres from the republic of Georgia - are mesmerizing, melding intensity and craft. The duo moves with controlled frenzy, with Irina channeling inspiration while Paata repeats a hand gesture signifying the master's suddenly prodigious writing. That the gesture will be seen again, only in broken form, emphasizes the ability of Synetic to forge pictures that, at their best, can be worth so much more than words.

The troupe has staged "The Master and Margarita" before, and it's not one of their wordless projects. Still, language is a secondary partner here, with dialogue and narrated flashbacks making clear, for instance, that the bald, bearded character who looks like Lenin in furry red pants is Voland - an iteration of the devil himself (played by Armand Sindoni). And dig Voland's surreal entourage: that wild-looking figure sporting claws and elevator boots is Behemoth, a cat walking upright (lanky Philip Fletcher), while the minion crawling crablike on all fours, upside down, is a nasty character named Azazello (Alex Mills).

This grotesque gang exerts outsized social control in this allegory, and the performers are as fearsome as you could wish: They wear Anastasia Rurikov Simes's Gaga-worthy costumes (and we haven't even talked about the creep on stilts). But no matter how striking the staging and effects, which include creative decapitations and even a zombie scene, the story is consistently clear and forward-moving.

It hurtles along, this show, in part because at 90 minutes it's almost an hour shorter than in 2004. The odd mix of high literature and pure pulp is alluring, of course: Religious imagery is resurrected, tyranny is indicted and nearly all the action is underscored with music ranging from innocent melodies to sinister dance club beats. No doubt this is an extremely distilled rendition of Bulgakov's once-censored, long-acclaimed book, but as usual with Synetic, there's no ignoring the theatrical kick.

Pressley is a freelance writer.

The Master and Margarita by Roland Reed, adapted from the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov. Set, Anastasia Rurikov Simes; lights, Colin K. Bills; original music, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; sound design, Irakli Kavsadze and Paata Tsikurishvili. With Ryan Sellers, Chris Dinolfo, Ben Russo, Scott Brown, Sarah Taurchini, Richie Pepio, Chris Galindo, Katherine Frattini, Shana Greenbaum, and Lauren Elizabeth Kieler. About 90 minutes. Through Dec. 12 at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St. NW. Call 202-547-1122 or go to

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