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In the Moment: Synetic Theater’s ‘Dante’s Inferno’

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The roaring wordless “silence” of Synetic’s remount of Dante’s Inferno is potent; it will swiftly suck you into its ferment depicting what sin might look and feel like if you are in Hell. Don’t brush aside this opportunity to know the distinctive, sui generis physical style of a Synetic Theater production. If you have never seen a Synetic production before, take a gander at this one.

First produced at the less than optimal Spectrum in Rosslyn in the late spring of 2009, Dante’s Inferno is the tale of a Dante, a lost traveler, steering his way through a perilous passage amid and through the nine circles of Hell. Dante is in search of both a kind of spiritual redemption through his quest to find God, as well as seeking out his long lost true love, Beatrice.

Philip Fletcher torments a sinner. Photo by Koko Lanham

Philip Fletcher torments a sinner. Photo by Koko Lanham

Know that even without a word spoken by the cast, this tale, as conjured by Synetic, is fervently expressed and emotionally charged. Its depictions of what Hell may be to those who believe; and those less spiritually inclined provides a unique theatrical and musical equivalent to the wicked whirlwind of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych from the Renaissance, The Garden of Earthly Delights

In marketing material this Dante’s Inferno Director Paata Tsikurishvili said that while Synetic produced the story before, “I wanted to try it again using the skills we’ve honed and the performance style we’ve developed since, and apply it to this massive, epic tale.” Well, this is more than just a try, it is a successful endeavor.

For those who saw the original production and may say to yourself, “Why bother? Well, let me point out that there are plenty of differences between the original Dante’s Inferno you may recall from 2009 and this one  At its Crystal City home base, there is a grander sweep to the production. The stage allows for more dramatic theatrical conventions such as trap doors, wide wings, some fly space and a deeper stage. The lighting grid and sound system are also enhanced from what I recall of offerings at the Spectrum. But, oh the tumbling and gymnastic movements remain – tat comprise the ‘Synetic style.’The ensemble makes for a movable feast of tableaus that will provide plenty of shivers, if you are a person of faith or not.

Most of all, there are new principals and ensemble members in this remounted production of Dante’s Inferno. While my DCMTA colleague Robert Michael Oliver has written a review I agree with- let’s take this opportunity to note the new generation of Synetic company members who have made this new Dante’s Inferno one that outpaces the original that I recall.

For some years, and since he was a teen in small parts, I have followed Vato Tsikurishvili take on larger and larger parts. In Dante’s Inferno he is the principal in a most challenging role that is both physical in nature and emotionally wrought. He resonates. Vato Tsikurishvili performs with a rough-honed edge as Dante; a man willing to more than withstand what the Devil places before him on this trip through Hell. He is believable in his emotional anguish and torment. On the night I saw the production, his eyes were misty indeed and hard to look away from. Dante is Vato’s coming out party as someone who can hold the audience in his gaze.

The sinners. Photo by Koko Lanham.

The sinners. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Tori Bertocci, with Synetic for only a few years, plays the role of Beatrice. She is simply a shimmering white gowned beacon of purity and love. She may only be a fragment of Dante’s messy imagination but as that fragment she become Dante’s muse and angel of mercy. Without her, Dante’s journey is merely 10 scenes of gyrating wild gymnastics. The best way for me to show you, is to suggest Bertocci did for me in Dante’s Inferno what Glenn Close did for Robert Redford in the movie The Natural in this scene that never has left my mind.

I mean who wouldn’t set out on a journey to Hell knowing there is such goodness and love in the world waiting. (Yes, I am a sap for such images).

As for the Dante ensemble and the other principals, well singly and together they bring such robust life to this production. They are thrilling in their fearlessness as they are pulled about and twisted, or when moving backwards as if by an unseen force field, or when being pulled down by gravity and the hand of the Master of Hell himself, the Devil.

Let me give just two scene images to whet the appetite. One is of Chris Galindo (he was in the original production) impaled on a cross in a most uncomfortable manner. And for Shapchat like humor, there’s a scene where headless figures in white sheets prance about the stage, like some kind of Headless Horsemen on Halloween night.

This revitalized, wordless version of Synetic’s emotionally-charged Dante’s Inferno is a wicked whirlwind of stunning visuals, hauntingly vivid original music, and powerful physicality. Don’t believe in Hell? No worries. See it anyway for its theatrical visions of a whole bunch of bad nightmares.

Let Dante’s Inferno wash over you for the first time or another time.  In Synetic’s journey from a small store front space in the then not yet “re-developed” Shirlington area of Arlington, to the Rosslyn Spectrum to The Kennedy Center, to its current home in the urban-like density and restaurant-rich walkable Crystal City, get yourself a ticket. And for me, let me praise the new generation of Synetic Company members, for continuing the unique outlook of a theater company born in Northern Virginia that has few peers for its physical style and often wordless dialogue around the country.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, without an intermission.

Tori Bertocci and Vato Tsikurishvili. Photo courtesy of Synetic Theatre.

Tori Bertocci and Vato Tsikurishvili. Photo courtesy of Synetic Theatre.

Dante’s Inferno plays through October 30, 2016 at Synetic Theater – 1800 South Bell Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

Note: This production is recommended for ages 16 & up for violence and partial nudity.

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