In the Moment: A Look at Synetic Theater’s ‘As You Like It’

Synetic Theater continues to winningly upend The Bard’s canon with its 12th production in the speechless, though far from silent, series that had its start in 2002 with Hamlet…the rest is silence. This time it is As You Like It, based upon Shakespeare play, that receives the Synetic treatment of stimulating physical movement flair and striking musical style. And as with previous “silent” treatments, the folk from Synetic vaporize 400 year-old written words into a new dimension while remaining connected to the text and language of a very recognizable William Shakespeare.

Scott Brown (Center) and the Company. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Scott Brown (Center) and the Company. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

My DCMetroTheaterArts colleague Sophia Howes wrote an on-point review of As You Like It.  My pull quote from Sophia’s review is: “Lovers find each other in a world in which there are no rules. This is state-of-the-art Shakespeare for a new generation.” Yup! Yes, indeed.

In this column let me add that Synetic’s As You Like It is a “downtown” production. Director Paata Tsikurishvili and adaptor Nathan Weinberger moved what was The Bard’s pastoral forest setting to the mean streets of a untidy, joyless contemporary urban setting full of angry denizens, at least before the intermission. After intermission, the production quickly wipes away signs of urban darkness and decay into the crackle of joyful energy and smitten love many of us recall from our first reading of The Bard’s narrative.

In this reboot of a classic for a new generation of theater-goer, the key Rosalind character (Taylor Robinson is an utter, unreserved presence) is way more than a clever, resourceful cross-dressing female. Robinson plays Rosalind as an assertive, sharp trailblazer for these more fluid, non-binary times. Robinson and the critical female characters such as her cousin Celia (a sparkling, “never-runs-out-of-energy” and just blissful insouciance Sharisse Taylor) and Audrey (a flamenco inspired stately, come-hither Francesca Blume) and Phebe (Laura Artesi, a Bada Bing Club pole-dancing woman on a mission to send shivers through anyone, male or female, gazing at her) are all refreshingly assertive alphas, each in their own way.

A number of the key male characters such as the lovelorn, pinning for Rosalind, Orlando (Philip Fletcher always a strong poised aura), Scott Brown and Will Hayes are malleable, if not dreamy beings, in touch with their “Y” chromosomes.

So, let me add a couple of highlights to be ready to take in to your hearts and minds. On the detailed, urban underground landscape that is the set from Anastasia Simes, there is a well-used centerpiece car on stage (an old Honda perhaps?) that is danced upon and used for other purposes that I have to wonder if it has its own stand-in as the show progresses. Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography is very connected to dance moves that many a Baby Boomer will easily remember.

Sound Editor/Resident Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze produces his usual lovely, majestic work. And as love was sought, just beginning to fill the air toward the climax of the production I heard rise up in me what I can only call a visceral response to a keyboard and guitar riff like hearing the Chicago Blues of Paul Butterfield, or jazzy-blues of Al Kooper and The Blues Project.

As You Like It does not shatter The Bard’s narrative.  It is a loving update for current times built upon the super-structure Shakespeare gave all of us in a day when females were not permitted to act on stage.  This As You Like It showcases what can be done when skilled professionals look for fresh ways to perform classic Shakespearean works before not just veteran audiences but to reach out to new audiences who already have plenty of things to entertain them.

Sharisse Taylor, Vato Tsikurishvili, Irina Kavsadze and Taylor Robinson. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Sharisse Taylor, Vato Tsikurishvili, Irina Kavsadze and Taylor Robinson. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Even with a “nothing is sacred,” no-words-are-spoken brashness, As You Like It is true to the core of the plot points that Shakespeare gave the world some many years ago. Will the Synetic production annoy purists? We will let them decide for themselves. Certainly, even before the production opened, the Washington Post’s Nelson Pressley located some who were not much amused already.

Yes indeed; “All the world’s a stage.” And let me say this to close: the final few minutes of As You Like It are a flat-out dance spectacular that will draw you to your own feet. You will leave the underground world of Crystal City and go into the cool night air invigorated and ready for whatever you may seek as a nightcap.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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As You Like It plays through January 17, 2016 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.