Review: ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at Synetic Theater

Synetic’s The Taming of the Shrew is disarming, decadent, and a great visual rush. It is also great, dialogue-free storytelling with its own edge and outlook. The Synetic production simply cast a glorious, happy spell over me.

Not considering myself to be a Shakespeare purist, I went to the production without either brushing-up or boning up on each scene of the Bard’s original The Taming of the Shrew. I went as well without the confining box of trying to recall Synetic’s Shrew at the Lansburgh Theatre in 2012. I wanted to disregard the past and see this production with fresh eyes. I wanted to know how it stood on its own along with the fact that there was a different director than in 2012, (this show was directed by Irina Tsikurishvili) and a different choreographer, Zana Gankhuyag. Gankhuyag is a Synetic company member who grew up in the Northern Virginia area, went to an Arlington County public high school, and is a product of the Synetic Theater Teen Program.

Irina Tsikurishvili and Ryan Sellers. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Using The Bard as his take-off vision, Synetic’s Paata Tsikurishvili adapted The Taming of the Shrew into a flaming, vibrant world of an imagined “Paduawoodland.” It is a place where life is like a runway where beautiful people sensually cat-walk with their cheeks sucked-in, and lips pursed blowing teasing kisses. I found myself thinking this was what it must be like in a front row of a Versace or Gucci Fashion Show, but with male and female models who can dance, move, and have animated personalities.

In Synetic’s production, impossibly beautiful, buff people masquerade as characters in a free-form modern rediscovery of The Taming of the Shrew. Each of the on-stage characters has a clear personality, no more the size of their part or time on stage.

So, a quick very quick synopsis of Synetic’s Buzzfeed and Instagram-worthy Shrew: A cad of an alpha-male, and aspiring, though not yet discovered avant-garde painter named Petruchio (a raffish, devil-may-care Ryan Sellers) is in for a big payday if he can marry (“tame”) a resolute woman named Katherine. She has high-standards for appropriate male behavior and has her own strong-willed qualities (“proper-woman” Irina Tsikurishvili as a tenacious, unyielding persona with some priceless killer WTF looks).

In this Synetic version of The Bard’s Shrew, Katherine does way more than just grouse or merely stand her ground as eligible men flaunt themselves attempting to win her favor along with a large “award” of money from Katherine’s father, a fashion-house scion (long-time Synetic Company member, the always visually animated comic Irakli Kavsadze).

The show provides a myriad of key “agent provocateur” characters with out-sized personalities such as Katherine’s younger sister Bianca (portrayed by Nutsa Tediashvili with a kittenish, frisky sensuality along with a come-hither smile). She is pursued by a gaggle of youthful, brassy, and way persistent suitors including a sometimes cross-dressing Justin J. Bell, and puppy-like Zana Gankhuyag, and Stephen Russell Murray.

Others in the Synetic cast include Alex Mills (as Petruchio’s BFF and paint studio assistant), as well as a motor-cycle riding, long-legged pin-up Janine Baumgardner, and a more diffident Katherine Frattini and Scott S. Turner, to round out the story. 

The Taming of The Shrew is a wonder of a theatrical page-turner; scene after scene. Each gives a reason to want to see the next.

For instance, there is a diabolical “Last Supper-like” scene in with Katherine is surrounded by food but unable to eat. With no food in her tummy, she hallucinates her companions as chickens. Gawd what a SNAP of a scene. There is a bedroom scene in which sharing a bed is anything but intimate, but rather a struggle for a comfortable position. Then add in bits with an Etch-A-Sketch, plenty of Vogue-like selfie-taking and a cattle-call of a runway with outfits and strutting that Versace would applaud.

The cast of The Taming of the Shrew at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

The underpinning music from Synetic stalworths Irakli Kavsadze and Konstantine Lortkipanidze is vibrant and, beyond a few passages, full of sunlight and youthful zest.

As for Gankhuyag’s choreography, there is a vigorous energy and chemistry to it. It is a wonderful amalgam of urban, spirited street dancing styles, at times with an almost improvisational appearance. True to Synetic’s movement-driven world-view, the dancing included on-the-mark acrobatic moves as well as seemingly competitive social dances as couples tried to out-do each other. The strength, stamina and balance of all those who danced was staggering to watch.

The costumes from Anastasia Rurikov Simes aree eye-catching colors showing off plenty of buff muscles and toned skin. It was like a day at the Jersey Shore when I was way, way younger. And, there was also a well-placed lobster prop as a stand-in for male physical size that left the audience in near tears. Simes also did the movable set design.

As Paata Tsikurishvili wrote in his program notes, this Shrew aimed to tells us that in spite of past disillusionments, disappointments, failings and selfishness, love is still possible.” In that it well succeeded.

And, I saw something else as well. For I took away that it was the male Petruchio who was truly tamed, as Katherine found her true self by being steadfast to herself.

So, go. Discard what you think you know. Fully enjoy what is before you at Synetic’s take on The Taming of the Shrew. Let yourself be as taken in as I was in this insightful, sunny update. Let it flaunt itself. After all, no dialogue was missed in this sharp production. It will lift you from any winter darkness or political angst.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

The Taming of the Shrew plays through March 19, 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: This production is recommended for ages 14+.

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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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