Director Paata Tsikurishvili has a sharp eye for such unnerving imagery in this Halloween season production, which revisits Nathan Weinberger’s 2007 take on Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” for Synetic and fuses it with Poe’s most celebrated poem, “The Raven,” as freshly adapted by Katherine DuBois. Although that mash-up is at times incongruent, laboring to connect two tales that share thematic ground but lack narrative cohesion, the impressionistic perspective on Poe’s fear of mental decay unsettles all the same.
Unlike Synetic’s many wordless productions, “The Madness of Poe” sparingly but smartly pulls dialogue from its source material to set the stage: Edgar (played by Ryan Sellers) is struck by writer’s block and haunted by his lost love, Lenore (Megan Khaziran), when he embarks on a trip to visit sickly siblings Roderick (Alex Mills) and Madeline Usher (Nutsa Tediashvili), the last members of a cursed household.
Although Sellers’s Edgar is something of a cipher in his own story, Mills and Tediashvili immediately captivate as a brother and sister overwhelmed by a forbidden infatuation. Mills’s Roderick is affable but teetering on the edge of sanity, and Tediashvili imbues the stir-crazy Madeline with pivotal pathos. Through Irina Tsikurishvili’s inspired choreography, which is alternately fluid and frantic, the performers channel their characters’ conflicted sensuality.
But the unsung heroes of “The Madness of Poe” are the production’s committed five-member ensemble: Maryam Najafzada, Aaron Kan, Ariel Kraje, Scean Aaron and Khaziran. Framed by scenic designer Phil Charlwood’s translucent doorways, Doug Del Pizzo’s bold lighting and a few clouds’ worth of stage haze, these performers are eerily omnipresent, appearing as ghostly silhouettes, moving statues and other apparitions.
Najafzada also plays the Raven — whom costume designer Alexa Duimstra seemingly imagined as the love child of a plague doctor and Edward Scissorhands — with animalistic energy. Synetic staple Philip Fletcher, as the Ushers’ stone-faced servant, also lingers as a quietly mesmerizing presence. All the while, Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s pulsating music and Justin Schmitz’s sound design, with its constant creaks, clanks and whispers, add to the sense of dread.
It’s not until the final moments that the seams truly show in DuBois’s adaptation, which circles back to “The Raven” in a sequence that regrettably plays like a tacked-on bookend. That said, the epilogue’s stylish staging — highlighted by modest but impressive aerial acrobatics — is so virtuosic that the digression pays off. With that final flourish, Poe’s anxieties pry their way into the psyche once more. So give Synetic credit: As far as nightmare fuel goes, “The Madness of Poe” never runs on empty.
The Madness of Poe, based on “The Raven” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe. Adapted by Katherine DuBois and Nathan Weinberger. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili. Choreography, Irina Tsikurishvili; lighting, Doug Del Pizzo; costumes, Alexa Duimstra; scenic design and props, Phil Charlwood; sound design, Justin Schmitz; music, Konstantine Lortkipanidze. Through Oct. 31 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. About 90 minutes. $20-$60. synetictheater.org.