In the Moment: Synetic Theater’s ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’

Synetic Theater’s The Man in the Iron Mask is a good yarn, well told. With the production Synetic continues to expand beyond its original Shakespeare roots and singular “silent” physical theater vision. This is no simple feat without risk. After all, why mess with success?

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.

So, let me add my praise to Synetic’s The Man in the Iron Mask to what my DCMetroTheaterArts colleague Chris Griffin presented in his review.

With the muscular touch of director Paata Tsikurishvili, Mask is a confident production not only chock-full of well-delivered rich dialogue, but with not only a cinematic outlook – but a well-modulated temperament of gravitas to savor.

Synetic’s The Man in the Iron Mask is adapted by Ben and Peter Cunis along with Script Consultant Lloyd Rose from the adventure tale written by Alexandre Dumas in the 19th century.

Mask is the tale of a mysterious “good” man who has been locked away in the Paris Bastille. It is set in the mid-1600s. The mysterious man is required to wear an iron mask to cloak his identity. He just might be the long unseen twin brother of France’s young, showy and quite spoiled King Louis XIV. Some think France should replace King Louis with someone less offensive.

What can be done to rid France of the youthful, abusive, creepy King is the journey at the center of Mask.  The task is taken on by the now aged and retired from service Three Musketeers.They come out of their retirement to try to save France. At least as they see France needing to be saved.

In a Tumblr interview, Ben Cunis said that the Mask characters, “from the Musketeers to the guards, face their darkest hour, and are challenged at the level of their core values. No one’s soul is safe.” In his Synetic program notes, Cunis wrote that the Synetic adaptation, “found this was a play about growing up and about coming to sharp realization about your ideals.”

So, what do I have to add to my colleague Chris Griffin’s review now that the production is at the mid-part of its multi-week run?

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.

I have this. I rarely compare theater productions to the movies. The mediums are so just so different.  But with this production of The Man in the Iron Mask and especially Act II, I came away feeling as when I first saw Sam Peckinpah’s masterful 1969 epic, end-of-the-West cowpoke yarn The Wild Bunch. It too is a tale about aging guys seeing the world changingbefore them, wanting to go out in a blaze of glory even in suicidal death.  Here is the famous last shoot-out scene from The Wild Bunch

In its own way this movie scene matches what director Tsikurishvilli has in store for Synetic audiences (though bullets and machine guns are replaced with wonderful sword play and no visible blood flowing). The old gun slingers want to actively decide what is in store for themselves. This is not dissimilar from what the audience can take-in at The Man in the Iron Mask as the Musketeers fight and then ride off.

Mask as well reminded me of the last scene in the 1991 road movie Thelma and Louise directed by Ridley Scott. You know that last scene as they drive off the cliff, arms up, smiling.

What Tsikurishvili, the Cunis Brothers, the actors whether veteran or newcomers, and of course the design team accomplished was this: over time as Act II was moving to its conclusion, the small Crystal City stage walls began to dissolve. I was now outside watching and then riding with the Musketeers. I understood why they were doing what they were doing. To be together, rather than fade away, unremembered.

Synetic’s The Man in the Iron Mask is a rip-roaring tale that will be appreciated by all audiences. But may well be best appreciated by those of us with a bit of gray in our hair who remember our own glory days.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

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.

‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ at Synetic Theater reviewed by Chris Griffin on DCMetroTheaterArts.


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