‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Synetic Theater

“Synetic” is a word that has come to mean more, at least in the parlance of DC theatre, than the Crystal City-based company which it names. It has come to mean a theatre that is physical, sexy, dramatic, flashy, and, well… theatrical. So it is more than fitting that Synetic Theater’s latest venture, their eleventh “Wordless Shakespeare” installment, is a Much Ado About Nothing set in 1950s Las Vegas. Directed by co-founder Paata Tsikurishvili, and starring co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili, Much Ado About Nothing is a wordless re-telling of Shakespeare’s classic sex comedy, set in a Las Vegas casino populated by bikers, showgirls, and wize guy casino magnates. And although the show could use a bit of trimming and a shot of adrenaline, Much Ado satisfies and dazzles in a way that only Synetic can.

Scene from 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Photo courtesy of Synetic Theater.
Irina Tskirushvili (Beatrice). Photo by Koko Lanham.

One of the most distinctive feature of Shakespeare’s play is the witty exchange of words between Benedick, the rakish soldier, and Beatrice, the strong willed woman who is his intellectual rival. Therefore, Ben Cunis, as Benedick, and Irina Tsikurishvili, as Beatrice, deserve high praise for maintaining the comedy of their sparky interactions without the aid of Shakespeare’s coruscating language. Likewise, the young lovers in the play, Hero (Emily Whitworth) and Claudio (Scott Brown) use only their bodies to convey the blissful romance – and, later, due to the wicked scheming of villain Don John (Dallas Tolentino), the ugly heartbreak – of young love.

Mr. Tolentino is wonderful as the aforementioned Don John, who is, in this version, a heroin addict who uses some pre-digital Photoshop to convince Claudio that his fiancée, Hero, is an adulteress. Don John, together with his evil sidekicks Borachio (Pasquale Guiducci) and Conrad (Tori Bertucci), make for a wickedly entertaining trio. Just as satisfying is the gloriously greasy, yet benevolent, Leonato (Peter Pereyra), re-cast as a patriarchal casino owner. Of course, one of the most hilarious trios in Much Ado is the clownish Sheriff Dogberry, played here by the wonderful Vato Tsikurishvili. He is accompanied by a pair of equally funny Keystone Kops, Verges (Zana Gankhuyag) and Balthasar (Justin J. Bell).

The set design, by Daniel Pinha, is all glamour and glitz, dominated by two Fred and Ginger staircases that curve luxuriously towards center stage. The lighting, by Brittany Diliberto, is equally “old Vegas”, with a wall of beauty lights, as well as the requisite Synetic haze, providing the wattage. And the original score by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, always a critical component of Synetic shows, is buoyant and brassy.

Ben Cunis and Tsikurishvili. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Ben Cunis (Benedick) and Irina Tsikurishvili (Beatrice). Photo by Koko Lanham.

Nominated for approximately 250,000 Helen Hayes Awards since its inception in 2002, Synetic has built a repertoire that is predictable, but never boring. They are at their best when the drama is dialed up to 11 on all fronts – performance, music, and design. Therefore, comedies like Much Ado About Nothing don’t always jive as well as, say, Othello or King Lear, both productions that achieved stunning results at the hands of Paata and Irina. That being said, Synetic’s Much Ado About Nothing remains a refreshing take on an old classic, filled with sex, glitz, and a lot of humor. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.

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Much Ado About Nothing plays through March 22, 2015 at Synetic Theater – 1800 South Bell Street, in Arlington, Virginia. For tickets, purchase them at the door, call the Box Office at (866) 811-4111, or buy them online.

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