There’s nothing particularly innovative about setting Shakespeare in the 20’s. Look around town and you’ll find a number of companies hauling out the flapper dresses. There’s also nothing new about Synetic presenting silent Shakespeare, they’ve done several to varied degrees of success. So when it’s comes to pulling off a well-known classic like Twelfth Night, within a well-expected genre like the twenties, you’d better make the production itself truly outstanding, and Synetic Theater did that to the tune of a well-deserved standing ovation.
Director Paata Tsikurishvili literally creates a silent film on stage, by pulling Shakespeare’s resident musician Feste (Ben Cunis), and minor clown character Fabian (Vato Tsikurishvili) out of the play and turning them into film makers who watch, film, and sometimes manipulate the characters through the plot line. Phil Charlwood gives us a deconstructed movie set with a scrim, through which we see bits of Shakespeare’s language appear to accompany the movement when needed; a perfect way to help the action through when things get convoluted. Costume Designer Kendra Rai creates fun era costumes that parade just enough skin to showcase the perfect bodies of the actors without feeling lewd, and accompanied by fun speakeasy roaring 20’s style original music (Konstantine Lorkipandize) this play really does feel like watching a live action silent film -one that is easy to understand and follow even without dialogue.
As with any good Shakespeare production, the real success lies within the skill of the actors. Going into the production I expected to see Synetic rely heavily on dance, especially with Resident Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili playing the lead. Of course there were a couple of fantastic dance numbers including the flips, tricks, and acrobatics Synetic has become loved for. But Synetic has been battling for sometime to be known as a theatre company, rather than a dance troupe, and they seemed to take that to heart here. Though good, the dances were few, and Tsikurishvili instead chooses to rely mostly on mime, slapstick humor, and clowning. That is what makes this production so immensely good.
Shakespeare already has his clowns written in the form of Olivia’s misfit servants and guests, played by Dallas Tolentino (Air Andrew Aquecheek), Hector Reynoso (Sir Toby Belch), Ben Cunis (Feste), Vato Tsikurishvili (Fabian), Irina Kavsadze (Maria), and Irakli Kavsadze (Malvolio). In this production these misfits become actual clowns, noses and all, to the delight of the audience. Kicking, whacking, tricking, and evening flipping their way to funny. Kavsadze’s Malvolio in particular gets well earned roars of laughter as he reveals himself to Olivia. I won’t spoil the fun on that gag, it’s best to see if for yourself.
The best humor, though, surprising came not from the clowns, but from the love rectangle that ensued between sexy Sebastian (Alex Mills), adorable Olivia (Kathy Gordon), and the truly superior lead players Irina Tsikurishvili and Philip Fletcher (Viola and Orsino). Tsikurishvili’s and Fletcher’s interplay is subtle, sweet, engaging, hilarious, and exceptionally well-executed. This pair steals the show completely, as they should. Tsikurishvili’s Viola is so quick and clean in her movements, that even without words you can feel the character’s wit come through as she wields her way silently through a hat trick or two. Charlie Chaplin in female form.
This particular production and setting fit Synetic so well, that it truly showcased the best of the actors, and the best of what Synetic does. If you’ve yet to see one of their silent Shakespeare’s this is the perfect start. Or if you’ve seen some of their past work that’s dance and fight heavy, you’ll appreciate the new direction that Tsikurishvili is taking the company. Less dance and more acting. Overall, this piece is just what Shakespeare intended from Twelfth Night. It’s silly, romantic, cute, and gratifying from start to finish.
Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.