There are two kinds of Shakespeare lovers. There are those who believe his works ought to be preserved, as if encased in glass. And then there are people like Paata Tsikurishvili.
Tsikurishvili is co-founder, with wife Irina, of the Arlington-based Synetic Theater, whose mission is to tell stories through movement and music, not words. Back in 2002, when he announced plans for Synetic’s first Silent Shakespeare production, “Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence,” he says, “I had some friends say, ‘How dare you touch this! It’s Shakespeare.’ ”
The argument against wordless Shakespeare is obvious: Like stashing the Little Mermaid’s song inside a seashell, stripping Hamlet of his soliloquy would rob the play of the very thing that makes it exceptional.
Tsikurishvili followed through on his vision, and “Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence” won six Helen Hayes awards in 2003. Synetic’s “Macbeth,” which opens Wednesday night, features returning cast members from the original 2008 staging, which also made out bandit-style at the Helen Hayes awards, winning five.
“We proved that Shakespeare is not only words,” he said. “It’s about metaphor, his themes, his [humanity], thirst, blood, power, love. . . . It’s powerful, and power is the action. That’s what we do.”
Tsikurishvili grew up in Soviet Georgia and was a young man as the Soviet Union was collapsing. He met his wife, Synetic’s resident choreographer, when she auditioned for the Georgian State Pantomime Theater, where he worked. Within months they were married. He was 23, she was 18. “It was just like Romeo and Juliet,” Tsikurishvili says.
They eventually came to Washington and started their own theater in 2001. “Synetic” is a combination of “synthesis” and “kinetic.”
Ryan Sellers, who plays Banquo, said the audience response “is a grab bag. . . . A lot of the older generation doesn’t like it. . . . But the younger generation responds to the high pace of it.” Synetic’s “Macbeth” clocks in at 90 minutes with no intermission — instead of the customary 21 / 2 to 3 hours.
Tsikurishvili insists that the text, though unheard, is ever-present. “We are not ignoring it. We are absorbing it.”
Irakli Kavsadze, the actor playing Macbeth, agrees: “Those words drive my body, my hands, my eyes, my mouth. Everything.”
Tragedies are unique; analogizing them is a tricky business. But the day Jose Luis Arellano Garcia, director of “¡Ay, Carmela!,” and David R. Peralto, head of music composition, sit down to discuss “¡Ay, Carmela!” in the box office of GALA Hispanic Theatre happens to be Sept. 12. The sky is as “radical clear” as Washington’s seen in a week and Peralto cannot help but connect 9/11 to the Spanish Civil War, which serves as “Carmela’s” historical setting.
“September 11 was an attack on freedom,” Peralto says. “So it’s the same thing.”
“¡Ay, Carmela!” is about “the memory, why we cannot forget,” Garcia says. “The Spanish Civil War was a fight for freedom. We cannot forget the past. All of Washington, D.C., is saying we can’t forget our past.”
The play follows a pair of vaudevillians who cross a war boundary by mistake and get stuck performing for Francisco Franco’s fascist army and captives. The Spanish-language play has never been produced in Washington.
Garcia first saw the play as a child in Madrid and cites the show as one that made him decide to be a director. “It’s very tender,” he says. “This play is like a small opera.”
GALA’s “¡Ay, Carmela!” opens Wednesday night and is a co-production with Madrid’s Accion Sur, the second international project between the two companies. Half of the rehearsals took place in Spain, where Peralto served as producer, the other half in the United States.
“The final product is from both worlds,” Peralto says. “Sometimes co-production is just theory. . . . This is real,” he and Garcia finish in unison.
GALA’s production will have English surtitles, and Garcia insists that non-Spanish speakers will viscerally understand what their ears can’t comprehend. “It’s about feeling things,” he says. “You just need to come with an open mind.”
“Even for people that have never been touched at a theater, it is impossible not to be touched,” Peralto says.
Garcia nods and says, “I know people say that for all plays. But it’s true.”
In 1986, Michael Kahn arrived at the fledgling Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library as its artistic director. The entire staff crowded into “one very small building,” Kahn recalls, “with one bathroom for 25 of us.”
They group “felt if we did what we felt was art . . . the rest would come,” he adds.
The rest did come, and 25 years later, Kahn and what has become the Shakespeare Company are being honored at the Harman Center for the Arts Annual Gala on Oct. 17.
“Without [Kahn’s] genius and talent, we wouldn’t have a Shakespeare Theatre Company,” said Alan Paul, the STC’s associate director, who is organizing the gala. “You can’t imagine the Shakespeare Theatre without him at the helm of it.”
Paul estimates that “at least four times” as many performers will participate in this year’s gala as in earlier ones.
Former colleagues and students of Kahn’s will be speaking and performing, including Patrick Stewart, Bradley Whitford, Kelly McGillis, Richard Thomas and Pat Carroll. Chelsea Clinton, who attended shows at the STC when her father was president, will speak as well. Cast members of the Broadway revival of “West Side Story” will perform, and the Joffrey Ballet will dance Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello.” Lonette McKee will be singing “Bill” from “Show Boat” — she was nominated for a Tony Award for Kahn’s Broadway production of the musical.
Kahn has “no idea what the program is” and is excited to catch up with former colleagues. “You become a family when you’re working on a play, and then everybody seems to split to the four corners of the Earth,” he says. “I’m always sorry about the actors who I work with and then don’t hear from them again until it’s my birthday on Facebook.
“I have an opportunity to look back [and] see how far we’ve come, how much I owe to other people. . . . It’s moving to me to look at that and see, ‘Wow, we’ve come a long way.’ ”