If there were a Williams-Sonoma for witches, the cauldron in Synetic Theater’s wordless “Macbeth” would be a bestseller. Consider: In an early moment of this darkly incantatory production, Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters roam a desolate battlefield strewn with corpses. With the casting of a spell, the cadavers rise and form a shuddering human crucible — a vessel generating the predictions that tempt Macbeth toward disaster. The diabolical version of a Le Creuset casserole first spews out an epaulet, signaling a thaneship, then a crown, signaling you know what. Could any item of occult cookware be more efficient and macabre?
The black artistry of this cauldron in some ways parallels the alchemy Synetic has worked on Shakespeare’s Scottish play: The cauldron is made of bodies, and this version of “Macbeth” consists largely of a dancelike but fiercely athletic (and even combative) physicality. The witches’ Crock-Pot yields a prophecy that’s eerie but true to the future (Macbeth does get that thaneship and crown); Synetic’s mute choreographic technique infuses the Bard’s story with a hypnotic strangeness while tracking the original script quite faithfully.
None of this will be news to those who saw Synetic’s “Macbeth” when the theater created it in 2007. The idiosyncratic interpretation nabbed five Helen Hayes Awards, including honors for director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili. Those artists contribute to this revival, which kicks off “Speak No More,” a festival of encores of Synetic’s Silent Shakespeares. (“Othello” runs Oct. 19-Nov. 6, and “Romeo and Juliet” is Nov. 25-Dec. 23.)
Also returning are many of the lead actors, including Irakli Kavsadze as a pugnacious but hapless Macbeth; Irina Tsikurishvili as his seductive and near-demonic wife; and Philip Fletcher, who pocketed a Helen Hayes for his turn as a witch. Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s original music — with its ominous percussion and droning, whistling sounds — again haunts the action.
The earlier “Macbeth” did its deeds at the Rosslyn Spectrum, but the new venue, in Crystal City, makes an apt cradle for the play’s spooky, martial atmospherics. On the steeply raked stage, set designer Anastasia R. Simes has established an oversize central throne that looks like a fortress drawbridge, framed by a proscenium that resembles stitched-together plates of chain mail.
The brutality inherent in this visual picture erupts into the open when the Witches (Fletcher, Mary Werntz and Sarah Taurchini) slither out of holes in the floor and appear to kill, and take the place of, a pope, a rabbi and an imam, who had been praying around a large globe. The religious references feel a little layered-on and preachy — an unnecessary reach for relevance — but the proceedings rejoin Shakespeare’s script as the battle breaks out.
Violence lurks in everything — for instance, in the determined, yearning movements and hard-eyed expressions of Tsikurishvili’s Lady Macbeth, who joins the Witches in a pas de quatre and, at another point, raises her boot to Macbeth’s shoulder and topples him to the ground. Even the production’s color scheme has ferocity: With an exception or two, the costumes, including the men’s vaguely fascist military uniforms, and Lady Macbeth’s raven-colored gown and scarlet gloves, are black, red or white. (Simes is also the costume designer.)
Lighting designer Colin K. Bills heightens the visual drama with a pulse-quickening chiaroscuro, full of murky depths and misty glaring. Sometimes the stage goes dark, except for flashlights held by the actors.
The show boasts a little humor: When courtiers wearing metallic masks prepare for, and consume, a banquet, their movements are jerky and robotic, as if tyranny had turned them into automatons. But what this “Macbeth” conveys overall — particularly with its choreographic approach, rich in circling movements — is a vision of one grim action gliding irresistibly into the next, as if the saga were a bleak dance that the dancers cannot leave. That sense of inexorable flow is, of course, the essence of tragedy.
Wren is a freelance writer.
directed by Paata Tsikurishvili. With Maya Brettell, Ben Cunis, Alex Mills, Misha Ryjik, Salma Shaw, JB Tadena, Dallas Tolentino, Ryan Tumulty, Vato Tsikurishvili and Matthew Ward. 90 minutes. Through Oct. 2 at Synetic Theater at Crystal City, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. Call 800-494-8487 or visit www.synetictheater.org.