Review: ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ at Synetic Theater

Synetic is one of the very few theatre companies that pull off “cinematic” well. Without sacrificing the intimacies and excitement of live theatre you often feel like you’re watching an epic movie at one of their shows. Who better then, to do an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask, the sequel to The Three Musketeers? And who better to direct than Paata Tsikurishvili? The show opens with sword play and swirling capes amidst smoke and a “horseback ride” that comes back later with haunting sentiment.

Playwrights Ben and Peter Cunis have the unenviable task of adapting for the stage Dumas’ 600-plus page novel that’s actually kind of a downer  – SPOILER ALERT: Not everybody makes it, like hardly anybody actually. The basic story takes place some years after the Musketeers all for oned and Aramis, now a papal hopeful, discovers that the prisoner being held by King Louis in the Bastille is actually Louis’s identical twin brother, Philippe. He launches a plan to put the old team back together one more time in order to replace the corrupt king Louis with the more compassionate Philippe. Meanwhile Louis is busy basically being a spoiled brat and seducing Athos’ daughter-in-law to be, Louisa. Athos returns to court insulting Louis who in turn has him arrested by his former compatriot D’Artagnan and sends Athos’ son, Raoul to Spain on a suicide mission.

Nicklas Aliff (Porthos), Shu-Nan Chu (D'artagnan), Ryan Sellers (Aramis(, and Ben Cunis (Athos). Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Nicklas Aliff (Porthos), Shu-Nan Chu (D’artagnan), Ryan Sellers (Aramis), and Ben Cunis (Athos). Photo by Johnny Shryock.

D’Artagnan, torn between his loyalty to the King and to his former teammates lets Athos go, who, at the last minute, joins Aramis and Porthos in rescuing Philippe from the Bastille. They plan to make the old switcheroo while Louis is at a ball thrown in his honor by the brown-nosing Superintendent of Finances, Fouquet. Thanks to the vengeful Minister of Finances, Colbert, this plan ultimately backfires and is bad news for pretty much everybody.

The cast is all top notch. It is impossible not to like Niklas Aliff’s guiless, gravel-voiced Porthos; to not feel Shu-Nan Chu’s palpable conflict as the dashing D’Artagnan; to not feel the weight of Ryan Seller’s balancing act of pragmatism and political ambition as Aramis; and to not admire Ben Cunis’ stubborn tenacity of principle as Athos – even as his family is ripped from him and seven years of sobriety go down the drain. All together they perfectly embody four aged allies doing their best to recreate their glory days.

Alex Mills as King Louis (left) and Philippe (right). Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Alex Mills as King Louis (left) and Philippe (right). Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Also of particular note are Alex Mills in his dual turn as the heartbreakingly vulnerable Philippe and the viscerally icky Louis and heaven help anyone in a scene with Nathan Weinberger as Colbert who has a deadpan to die for.

The production itself is gorgeous and scintillating! From Erik Teague’s jewel-toned costumes to Daniel Pinha’s rotating set with one side the golden palace of Sun King Louis and the other side the dark, dank walls of the Bastille that look like severely scarred human flesh. And Irina Tsikurishvili’s stunning choreography lights up the stage. The fight choreography and sword fighting co-directed by Ben Cunis and Vato Tsikurishvili is awesome! Kudos to Lighting Designer Brittany Diliberto, Sound Designer Thomas Sowers and
Konstatine Lortkipanidze for his wonderful score on their contribution to this visually stunning production.

And whether it’s a fight scene including a leaping split kick worthy of Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee or a Chaplinesque montage to show the training of the King’s double or a haunting moment of realization as Athos silently reads a letter stage right while a battle rages on stage left, when it comes to movement and physical storytelling Synetic is tops!

The Man in the Iron Mask plays through June 19, 2016 at Synetic Theater – 1800 South Bell Street, in Arlington, VA.  For tickets call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif


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