Review: ‘The Tempest’ at Synetic Theater

What an inspired creative jewel. What a brave new world. What a daring technical and artistic production. That is Synetic’s The Tempest; Shakespeare’s tale of shipwreck and magic, power grab and revenge, love and repellant masculinity, comedy and drama–and of youth growing into adulthood.

Irina Tsikurishvili as Prospera in 'The Tempest' at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Irina Tsikurishvili as Prospera in ‘The Tempest’ at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

This production is one of rousing movement and athleticism (performed in ankle-deep water that fills the striking on-stage lake), buoyed up and underpinned by deeply vulnerable personal relationships. The personal relationships illuminate human feelings in impressive moments of stillness and silence.

The Synetic production of The Tempest might be considered a remake of its crowd-pleasing 2013 production. But new artistic choices have this 2019 production stand tall on its own. How so?

The answer is in the hands of director Paata Tsikurishvili with an adaptation by Synetic veteran Nathan Weinberger. First, this Synetic production of The Tempest has made gender changes for various characters. ”We wanted to explore that in our adaptation,” wrote Paata Tsikurishvili in his program notes. “To cast the story in an entirely different light and provide a new point of view.”

The critical gender change and casting choice is to have Synetic co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili in the role of Prospera. (Yes, Prospera; not Prospero). Synetic then added further “gender reversals” with Prospera having a sister named Antonia. Another gender change was to have a comic duo composed of a female Trincula with Stephano.

With these changes of genders, Synetic’s “wordless” The Tempest has plenty fresh to impart about human relationships; of a mother and daughter, a sisterly rivalry, and an enjoyable relationship between two clowning characters.

'The Tempest' at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
‘The Tempest’ at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

For those less familiar with Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the Synetic synopsis: “When the magical and powerful Prospera creates a sea storm, she gets more than she bargained for as romantic drama, deception, and quests for vengeance emerge from the depths. Spirits, monsters, witches, drunken fools, and lithe lovers contort and cavort with passion and bravado…”

As Prospera, a deposed Royal living in exile on a remote island with only her daughter Miranda and two unique sidekicks, Calaban and Ariel, Irina Tsikurishvili (who also choreographed the production’s movements to accentuate the water aspects) is a force-field. In several scenes, she is like Moses with a staff opening the Red Sea in her powers. But it is in several introspective scenes that Irina Tsikurishvili had her greatest impact on me. She was a nurturing parent or just a normal human being trying to figure out what next in her life. She is alone facing the audience with utterly soulful asking herself “What am I to do?” And then there are her dancing skills, my word. Dancing through the air is hard enough, but with the extra weight of ankle-deep water against her, her athletic skills had me in awe.

As Calaban, the son of a witch, Vato Tsikurishvili is beyond a comic presence and a fine, smooth physical performer. His dramatization of a moment in which he becomes a brute, is truly terrifying. It is a shiver-making theater scene. Alex Mills as Ariel, a silver-clad spirit in service to Prospera, is a mischievous delight. His smile and his bright eyes lit up, especially when he teased those in the three rows of splash-zone seats. (Patrons in the “Splash Zone” of several front rows of seats should expect to happily become splashed with water).

Maryam Najafzada portrays youthful daughter Miranda with a fresh playful innocence. That is, until a certain reality of the male gaze is cast upon her. What is she to do with her new feelings? How will her mother Prospera react to the interests of males on her only daughter? Scott Brown is tenderness personified as the young man who falls madly in love with Miranda–a young man who must pass through tests to prove he is worthy of Miranda.

As one who helped exile Prospera, her own sister, Megan Khaziran as Antonia is chilling from the movement she appears. She is a fully-realized, sly sensual menace who will use any weapon at her disposal to have things go her way. The duo of amusing characters who add The Bard’s touch of slapstick are Katherine DuBois Maguire as Trincula and Joshua Cole Lucas as Stephano. They are in-the-moment, full-speed-ahead in their portrayals of foolish jesters and counterweights to the seriousness of The Tempest.

Scott Brown and Maryam Najafzada in 'The Tempest' at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Scott Brown and Maryam Najafzada in ‘The Tempest’ at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

And now, let’s praise the Synetic technical design team. Technical folk can often be overlooked. Please don’t. For The Tempest there is set and costume designer Anastasia R. Simes and production stage manager Genevieve Dornemann and all those who made the watery production such a success. (How the pool was constructed to hold the weight of the water is a technical marvel).

Costume design by Anastasia R. Simes gives each character a striking visual of who they are, or who they might be in a relationship with. (I am in awe of the fabrics Simes used so that the water wicked away quickly or is repelled so that the costumes quickly appear dry).

The dazzling music, from Synetic veteran Konstantine Lortkipanidze, is its own voice and fuel for this wordless Shakespeare. The music was a rich tapestry of power chord progressions when scenes were full of movement, or a more sinister minor key when The Tempest became darker, or joyfully an energetic dance tune. The tinkling of piano keys is interspersed as well, accompanied by a most alluring water visual. Lighting by Andrew Griffin was eye-catching, providing moody ways to change acts and scenes.

Do find your way to the Crystal City Underground and the home of Synetic Theater. It’s an opportunity to cavort with Shakespeare in an impressive production of The Tempest. For me, the gender switches and casting choices were no gimmicks. Rather, they opened a new way to take in The Tempest. “O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!”

Running Time: One hour and forty minutes, with no intermission.

The Tempest plays through October 20, 2019, at Synetic Theater – 1800 S. Bell St, Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.


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