‘Home of the Soldier’ at Synetic Theater by Amanda Gunther


A stunning performance of heartfelt emotions and war-torn reality comes to Crystal City in Synetic Theater’s new mesmerizing production of Home of the Soldier. A new play created by Paata Tsikurishvili and Ben Cunis, this heart-breaking, gut-wrenching story is a phenomenon of live theatre that must be seen to be believed. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, the harrowing life of soldiers in modern warfare takes to the stage in bursts of frenetic chaos and explosive violence that will keep you at the edge of your seat – as the show spirals towards its drastic and profound conclusion.

Soldiers from the Ensemble of 'Home of the Solder' and Son (Center: Vato Tsikurishvili). Photo by Johnny Shryock.

The show is highlighted by a complex and intense soundscape designed by Irakli Kavsadze. Every scene has a soundtrack that hums along, pacing the show and driving the action. Kavsadze utilizes found sounds and rhythms of the techno and house genres to create an auditory masterpiece. The piece opens with the sound of soldiers marching and slugging through the mud; the heavy sound of boots squishing against the trenches creating a powerful image to set the atmosphere of training camp. The sound evolves into the grinding of music that lies beyond this plane of reality; a mesh of techno rhythm and found sounds creating a sense of surreal reality that is both strikingly present and strangely absent at the same time. The main soundtrack is accompanied by flawless sound effects; Kavsadze’s utilization of artillery gunfire is synchronized impeccably with the lighting effects and the action on stage; every moment timed to perfection to create a stunning series of war scenes on the stage.

Lighting Designer Andrew F. Griffin works with Kavsadze to create the intense atmosphere of soldiers at war. Working with Multimedia and Projections Designer Riki K. Griffin incorporates moments of terror, adrenaline, and panic with a rush of overwhelming visual stimuli; keeping this production fresh and edgy. The use of tight focused spotlights to single out various characters in certain scenes allows the audience to more closely focus on the thoughts and actions of those characters while broader hazy flood style lighting from above keeps many of the scenes in a hazy reality; mysterious and foreboding. There are absolutely shocking moments of screen to stage action where Riki K’s projections of the actors’ pre-recorded movements bleed seamlessly into reality as a fight scene peels from the wall and onto the stage as the actors leap out from backstage to continue the event. An unbelievable visual effect second to none.

The factor that ties all of these aesthetic elements together is the fierce and intense choreography. Fighting and dancing and fight dancing all in one; organized motions that appear as utter chaos; a brilliant execution by Choreographers Irina Tsikurishvili and Ben Cunis. The pair create astonishing moments of constant action on the stage; every emotional theme carried by synchronized movements among the actors. The chaos of the opening scene as the soldiers move through their training exercises is fluid and almost dance-like despite the jarring shifts between each series of movements. And the fight choreography is the most real and convincing stunt fighting yet to be seen this year. Tsikurishvili culminates a tantric moment of emotional evolution during the dance number shared between Mother (Jodi Niehoff) and the native soldiers. There is nothing quite like it as the actors fall into this desperation of mourning; their dance-like movements driven by haunting grief and ritualistic revenge.

War Sequence from 'Home of the Soldier.' Photo by John Shryock.

The efforts of the players to build intensely dramatic scenes filled with raw emotion and real action is astounding. Director Paata Tsikurishvili ensures that each moment has purpose and drive behind it – letting the pace of this piece ride like a tank through a warzone. Tsikurishvili motivates the actors to find the truth in each scene, layering their interactions to have meaning and feeling so that the audience might actually be watching a real play by play from an actual platoon of soldiers in a war. The birthday party scene is the best example of this intense work. The actors fall into a series of hysterical hillbilly style dance moves, partying and enjoying themselves. They lose themselves in the moment with each actor adding their own homegrown moves to the dance, building this false sense of security; a beautiful moment of peace so that when it all is blown apart it is that much more horrifying.

The level of emotional portrayal is beyond compare in this production. Each of the soldiers presents a personalized reality of what war is really like; their faces and bodies so intertwined with their feelings that it is harrowing in moments of true disaster. Strikes (Dallas Tolentino) is the voice of moderate reason – employing logic to all of his actions, while Rev (Austin Johnson) is the radical loose cannon, every word he spouts off comes loaded with anger or resentment. The Native Soldier (Philip Fletcher) is constantly filled with a rush of adrenaline darkened by his character’s inherent evil. Fletcher is driven by a force that makes every motion of his body erratic, his eyes filled with lunacy and rage as he plots against the others. And Sarge (Joseph Carlson) is the epitome of the loud-mouthed, force driven drill sergeant, with his poignant comic moments.

Vato Tsikurishvili has the most compelling emotions throughout the performance. His face is a canvas upon which he paints each expression to match the tone of the scene. He never loses the ferocity in his eyes and never drops that sensation of being a soldier on a mission. Tsikurishvili lets the audience experience each of his highs and lows through a series of emotional outbursts, his body acting as an extension to the feelings etched so clearly upon his face. His performance is phenomenal and his character’s evolution transcends the difficulties of all of the surrounding violence. A truly passionate and empowered portrayal of a soldier just trying to find his father.

Synetic Theater’s Home of the Soldier is the ‘Must Seeof the summer, and should not be missed.

Retaliation Attack from 'Home of the Soldier.' Photo by John Shryock.

Running Time: 90 minutes,with  no intermission.

Home of the Soldier plays through July 1, 2012 at Synetic Theater – in the Crystal City Metro – 1800 South Bell Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (800) 494-8497, or purchase them online.

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