In the Moment: ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at Synetic Theater

Sleeping Beauty, Synetic Theater’s new dialogue-free production, is gorgeous, entertaining, and illuminating. This Sleeping Beauty is more than a fanciful, “white bread, white washed” Disney-like take on a classic fairy tale. The production has bite and unanticipated muscle to balance out its enchantment, good looks, and a lovely happy-ending.

Eliza Smith (Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty), Zana Gankhuyag (the Prince), and Irina Tsikurishvili (the Witch). Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Under the sure hands of Paata Tsikurishviili, with Nathan Weinberger’s wily adaption of the centuries old, well-known written work of folk lore, Synetic’s Sleeping Beauty provides the attraction to and pleasure of live theater to children (over 7) and well-earned lasting interest for adults.

As Tsikurishili wrote in his program notes:

What we have done is present the story’s antagonist – the Witch – in a new light. To show her as more than a force of pure evil.

That has been clearly accomplished.

What I came away with was a deeper understanding of the Witch’s grievances and grieving that set her off on a path of rage, anger and revenge. The Witch is played by the masterful Irina Tsikurishvili. She is a force of unleashed might with expressive darkly highlighted eyes and sinewy movements. I could feel her force field whenever she pointed her finger or lifted her arms to bring paranormal energy to those she wanted to sear (the blond wig though did nothing for me). Then at other moments she become the enveloping visual manifestation of motherly devotion with simple sways and a softening of her face.

Sleeping Beauty has a well-known fairy tale with a typical happy ending. My DCMTA colleague Lisa Traiger’s rave review is here. 

In this column, I give little or nothing away when I will write that I gazed with genuine sympathy at Tsikurishvili’s Witch. This Sleeping Beauty Witch was no one-dimensional character as she moved from the spotlight to a dimly lit background presence. I saw in Tsikurishili’s final merciful moments as the Witch, a clear understanding in her mind that others must have the spotlight now with the opportunity to live happily ever after.

As the young lovers, the fetching, at times innocently seductive work of Eliza Smith as Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and the vigorous physicality of Zana Gankhuyag (The Prince) complemented each other very well. They both trained with Synetic Theater’s Teen Program. So, Synetic continues to find and train its performers of the future.

And as three Fairies, Kathy Gordon, Francesca Blume, and Emily Whitworth steal many a scene with their utter delight of wings, wands and faces that give off humor, despair and love that they deserve a spinoff; somehow, somewhere, all of their own. How about a theatrical duel of some kind with the three witches from Macbeth or those rascals The Rude Mechanicals?

Sleeping Beauty has a production technical design ethos begins with the original music (composed by Konstantine Lortkipanidze; Musical Directed by Irakli Kavsadze) matching the visually absorbing movements and dance choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili. Then there was simply riveting fight choreography – especially involving the Witch and the Prince – developed by Dallas Tolentino. (Tolentino also played the King in the production).

Eliza Smith (Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty), Zana Gankhuyag (the Prince), and Irina Tsikurishvili (the Witch). Photo by Johnny Shryock.

The production’s multi-media technical design aspects are an extremely well-synchronized well-constructed medley of music, scenic design (Phil Chartwood) sound and multimedia engineer (Thomas Sowers), movement, lighting (Brian Allard), projections (Riki Kim designer), costumes (Kendra Rai) and masks. Seven floor to ceiling translucent drapes are beyond mere fabric as sights and sounds are projected on them or have movement emanate from them.

This Sleeping Beauty is more than a “mere” Holiday season child‘s fairy tale brought to stage life. It is much more than just a prince, a kiss, and young woman waking into her adulthood. This Sleeping Beauty depicts the complexity in all of us, the good, the bad, and all in-between.

Synetic’s Sleeping Beauty will have children and adults listen and gaze in wonder. That is a rare feat.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Sleeping Beauty plays through January 9, 2017, at Synetic Theater – 1800 South Bell Street, in Crystal City, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

Note: The Synetic Sleeping Beauty reminded me of Andrew Lang’s Twelve Fairy Books that I read to my own daughter some 25+ years ago. These were earthy and lead to many a conversation about why and what. Disney they weren’t.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.


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