‘Hamlet…the rest is silence’ at Synetic Theater

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“The rest is silence” are Hamlet’s last words before he dies, but you won’t hear them in this production because the whole play is conveyed in movement. Not a word is spoken.

Synetic Theater first produced Hamlet … the rest is silence in 2002. Husband and wife team Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili starred as Hamlet and Ophelia, winning Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Direction and Choreography. The company they created has staged 10 wordless Shakespeare adaptations and racked up 24 Helen Hayes Awards and 92 nominations. They have reprised Hamlet… twice before, notably in 2007 at the Kennedy Center Family Theater.

Alex Mills (Hamlet) and Irina Kavsadze (Ophelia). Photo by Koko Lanham.
Alex Mills (Hamlet) and Irina Kavsadze (Ophelia). Photo by Koko Lanham.

Director Paata Tsikurishvili joked to an appreciative audience on Opening Night Thursday that he’s beginning to feels like Hamlet’s uncle. He says that this fourth production will be “a renewed pleasure for those familiar with Synetic work as well as a perfect introduction for newcomers.”

I am a Synetic newcomer and before writing this review I stumbled upon the 7%-38%-55% Rule of Nonverbal Communication by UCLA psychologist Albert Mehrabian, who found that that people trust body language (55 percent) more than words (7 percent) or tone of voice (38 percent) when deciding if they like someone or not. And I read  Hamlet (and Others) as the Strong, Silent Type by Patrick Healy in The NY Times.

The verdict? If Shakespeare, who would be 450 years old on April 23, could see this show, he would love it, especially Ophelia picking flowers and the famous play-within-the-play sequence.

Hamlet is so famous that it may not need a plot summary. We should probably already know about the play-within-the-play, in which Hamlet tries to figure out if his uncle Claudius killed the king by having a troupe of traveling players perform a play along the same lines so he can gauge his reaction, right? We should probably already know about the seven soliloquies. To synopsize, or not to synopsize, that is the question.

The company deliberately chose not to in the program. I read the SparkNotes and it added to my enjoyment. But it would have been just as nice, if, as Paata suggested, I simply relaxed and let the dancers’ movements take me on a magical mystery tour that he describes as “fantastical realism.”

Utterly central to this experience is resident choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili, who stars as Hamlet’s mother. Tsikurishvili incorporates Martha Graham-inspired dance techniques such as 90-degree angles of foot and hand into her depiction of Gertrude, and it is clear that her artistic sensibility imbues that of the entire cast. The ensemble pieces are really fun to watch.

As Hamlet, Alex Mills is most exceptional after he mistakenly kills Polonius (Hector Reynoso) instead of Claudius, who has killed his father, usurped the throne and married his mother. When he realizes he’s murdered the wrong man, his emo angst disappears and his expressive features seem to actually welcome a case of full-blown psychosis.

Mills and Tsikurishvili could define their relationship a little more clearly for the viewer. Is Hamlet just angry that his mom re-married within two months or is he also possessive of her? Does she care only about Claudius or does she sympathize at all with her son? I did not really get a feel for their relationship.

As Claudius, Irakli Kavsadze’s sinewy tango with Gertrude before he kills the king (Philip Fletcher) is the essence of physical theater. Kavsadze can insinuate more with one crook of a finger than most people could in a lifetime of eyebrow maneuvers.

Irina Kavsadze is absolutely captivating as Ophelia. She is perfectly in sync with the music and her hand motions are like watching drops of food coloring unfurl in water.

As the Player Queen, Irina Koval’s semi-mechanical movements are precisely timed to the tinkling, music-box score.

Laertes (Scott Brown) struggles to emerge from a flexible cage to avenge his sister Ophelia’s death on Hamlet. Brown and Mills engage in some exceptional slow-motion weaponless swordplay as the show draws to a close.

The ensemble forms the boat that carries Hamlet away to England, the body of water in which Ophelia drowns, and dead bodies roiling to the surface in the graveyard scene with Gravedigger/Osric (and effortless tumbler) Vato Tsikurishvili. The ensemble is composed of Lorne Britt (Priest), Zana Gankhuyag (Guildenstern), Randy Snight (Rosencrantz), Janine Baumgardner and Emily Whitworth.

Resident Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze weave together classical music with rock-inspired bass-lines. Sound Designer Irakli Kavsadze adds sonorous human vocalizations to create an aural tapestry that could be improved upon only if the music were live.

Props Master Kasey Hendricks and Costume Coordinator Claire Cantwell are using the original or identically reconstructed set, costume and props designed by Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili for the 2002 production. Gertrude’s dress has laces of purple ribbon criss-crossing up the back and the Player Queen sports a red silk bullet-bra and matching skirt.

Smoke under the supervision of Technical Director Phil Charlwood often allows the actors to hide just outside the penumbra of light by Designer Brittany Diliberto and the dancers seem to appear suddenly even though they are there all along.

Hamlet..the rest is silence is a spectacular production. Synetic Theater’s been here all along and my advice to myself and others is never to miss a single one of their shows.

Irina Tsikurishvili (Gertrude) and Irakli Kavsadze (Claudius). Photo by Koko Lanham.
Irina Tsikurishvili (Gertrude) and Irakli Kavsadze (Claudius). Photo by Koko Lanham.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Hamlet…the rest is Silence plays though April 6, 2014 at Synetic Theater-1800 Bell Street, at the Crystal City Metro, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.