The show has landed with a bit of a thud at Georgetown University’s Davis Performing Arts Center, where the black-box Devine Theater is perhaps half the size of Synetic’s usual stage. No doubt this “Oz” would have looked different without the transfer, but design isn’t the issue. What’s perplexingly flat is the story and its usually effervescent characters.
The cast can move, and once Dallas Tolentino appears as the floppy Scarecrow and flounces like he’s made of rags, you figure the jaunt down the Yellow Brick Road might get interesting. But the adaptation by Tori Bertocci and director Ryan Sellers doesn’t really give the characters much to do. Everyone’s busy — Synetic actors will always leap, twirl and scamper — but whether it’s Munchkins fluttering around Emily Whitworth’s spunky Dorothy or crouching, winged monkeys swarming the stage, the action is seldom meaningful or telling. It’s antic.
This is not one of Synetic’s “silent” projects without words: Dorothy speaks, as do the witches, the Wizard and, eventually, the Scarecrow. But the dialogue is offhand and flippant, not really earnest yet not really comic — it’s like a first draft. The vague quality makes you wonder why Synetic chose to tackle the iconic “Oz” (which was seen earlier this spring at Ford’s Theatre in a far more vivid variation, the musical “The Wiz”).
Encouraging signs are the impishness of Robert Bowen Smith’s Elton John look as the fake Wizard in oversize glasses with emerald tinted lenses; Philip Fletcher’s warm demeanor as the robotic-moving Tin Man; and Natalie Cutcher’s gleeful mischief as the Witch of the West. Whitworth’s Dorothy is unrelentingly chipper, though, and neither Jacob Yeh nor Lee Liebeskind get much interesting material to execute as Toto and the Lion.
Even the synthesized music (which underscores most Synetic productions) is a droning, flavorless fog; only the sinister tango introducing those creepy monkeys has any distinct style. The fantastical, over-the-top “Oz” ought to suit this imaginative and sometimes dazzling troupe, but the unsettled Synetic team does not in any sense seem at home.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, adapted by Tori Bertocci and Ryan Sellers. Directed by Ryan Sellers. Choreography, Tori Bertocci; scenic design, Patti Kalil; costumes, Alison Samantha Johnson; lights, Amanda Kircher; resident composer, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; sound design, Thomas Sowers. Through Aug. 12 at Georgetown University’s Davis Performing Arts Center, 37th and O streets NW. $40-$45. 866-811-4111 or synetictheater.org.