Synetic Theater has brought forth an earthy, musically rich, sophisticated retelling of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. At its heart, this appealing production harks back to the darker roots of what were once oral tales told by parent to child before literacy was widespread. Fairy tales then were morality short stories about good and evil that paralleled religious teachings.
In a pensive adaptation by Ben and Peter Cunis with the restrained and sober direction of Ben Cunis, Synetic has produced a Beauty and Beast full of withering irony that the old and young can appreciate. The show is well-served by the emotional bite that the musical score by composers Clint Herring, Andrew Gerlicher, and Konstantine Lortkipandze have written. The music is both of minor keys with sadder, unsettled moods as well as chipper light-hearted love-struck emotions. And, of course, there are any number of bombastic tones to accompany fights and anger.
The Synetic adaptation has added to the classic Beauty and the Beast tale well beyond a father without a wife losing his fortune, his three daughters each dealing with lack of possessions in their own wayalong with a mysterious Beast and a red rose. There is now a back-story, not unlike what Wicked has a new preface to The Wizard of Oz. The audience learns who, what and why the Beast is what he is through the eyes of a new character.
A key concept underpinning this contemporary vision of Beauty and the Beast is that until the last moments, it is “my story” as told by a wronged woman. She is seeking her revenge upon those who abused her. She is wicked, but with plenty of good reason. If there was crowd sourcing, she would have been acquitted in the court of public opinion for just cause. All she asks of the audience, with a smirk in her voice, is this: “love doesn’t hurt ever, does it?”
But, this is a fairy tale. There are questions to be posed about redemption and forgiveness as well as the complexities of learning right from wrong.
While the production is more in tune with the Synetic’s usual minimal dialogue, physical theater and choreographed movement, there is also a narrator who takes on the role of scene setter. The narrator is the wronged woman and now a witch-like creature played by a swaggering, alto voiced, unapologetic “you hurt me, now I am going to return that hurt” Renata Veberyte Loman. She has a stare into the audience that connects with her character’s mind set. She is not to be trifled with.
As the Beast, Vato Tsikurishvili, is a charmer. His solid build gives visual power to his characterization. Yet, he possesses a graceful style of moment, a boyish essence and a decency that gives Beauty’s growing love for him some basis. As the Beauty named Belle, Irina Kavsadze is sweet innocence and virtue. She moves about the stage with a smooth demeanor and femininity. She is the ultimate heroine, but not one so utterly pure as to be off-putting or candy-coated. The courtship of Belle and the Beast is one of dangling feet and the appeal of first love.
As a slave creature to the wicked enchantress, Matthew Alan Ward, is a long sinewy presence. He calls forth the visual menace of early 20th century German expressionistic cinema, at first. Then his kind, human heart comes forth to show him a hero. He is an ally to all that is good. In some aspects he is the audience representative in working through to any chance of redemption and forgiveness.
The roles of the two jealous, prideful sisters of Beauty are fittingly played by Anna Lane and Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly. The handsome, but ultimately malicious suitor of Beauty is the apt characterization of Joseph Carlson.
Daniel Pinha’s set design brings the audience right into the production. Patrons enter the theater space to find themselves under a canopy of hanging torn fabric right above them. It deepens the visual and emotional space drawing viewers into and onto the stage. The stage set includes a central translucent oval space center-rear used for projections and lovely silhouettes.
The expressive movements choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili are most delightful when love fills the air. The movements portray the youthful spark of love at first bloom. There are some nifty flirtation moments that utilize what are best described as skateboard ramps. Cute and adorable.
Costumes by Kendra Rai reveal the “read” for each character without a word spoken.The lighting design by Brittany Diliberto and sound design by Thomas Sowers are handsomely detailed adding to the immersion of the audience into the mystery and magic they witness.
This Beauty and the Beast has nit-picks and quibbles. At 100 minutes with no intermission, there are scenes that feel long; overstaying their purpose and welcome. Even happy dancing can be overdone. The wrap-up into the final blackout, happens swiftly after so much time spent on darkness and sorrow. And some sound adjustments might help with the muddiness of the narrator’s voice.
For some, this production may produce fond remembrances of reading a Robert Sabuda pop-up book to a child. The production reminded me of my own days reading books to my then young daughter when she would stop me to ask with real wonder, “but Daddy, crows and animals can’t talk; can they?”
What Synetic has given audiences is a moody Beauty and the Beast that conjures a crackling fire, flickering candle light, and cuddles under a warm blanket. It has an old-world European allure with sharper points and darker hues. It makes you want to reach out to touch the little points to feel if they really sting. But more so, it depicts the rewards of love and virtue in a world in which a pretty face is not the most important part of someone. It is a show with emotional bite, and a fitting new musical score.
Running Time: One hours and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Beauty and the Beast plays through January 11, 2015 at Synetic Theater-1800 South Bell Street in Arlington, VA (At the Crystal City Metro). For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.
Recommended for children 7 & up.
Note: There is ongoing parking garage construction. Information is here.