Review: ‘Twelfth Night’ at Synetic Theater

What is Shakespeare without his words? Answer: a rollicking good time!

Synetic Theater, known for its dynamic and often wordless productions of Shakespeare and other classics, have another hit on their hands with their revival of Twelfth Night, set in the of the 1920s. This jewel of a production is full of heart, laughter, and glamour that will continue to dazzle long after you have left the theatre.

Cast of '12th Night.' Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Cast of ’12th Night.’ Photo by Johnny Shryock.

The story is simple: Viola (Irina Tsikurishvili) and Sebastian (Alex Mills) are fraternal twins that get separated in a shipwreck. Viola disguises herself as a man named Cesario and becomes the page of Duke Orsino (Philip Fletcher), who is attempting to woo the grieving and therefore unavailable Olivia (Kathy Gordon). When Viola/Cesario attempts to woo Olivia in Orsino’s place, Olivia falls in love with the strapping young lad. Meanwhile, Olivia’s cohorts Maria (Irina Kavsadze), Toby Belch (Scott Brown), Andrew Aguecheek (Dallas Tolentino), and the clowns Feste and Fabian (Zana Gankhuyag and Vato Tsikurishvili respectively) are pranking the uptight steward Malvolio (Irakli Kavsadze) into believing that Olivia is in love with him. All right, maybe it’s not as simple as it sounds.

In telling Shakespeare’s classic tale without spoken text, the husband and wife team of Director Paata Tsikurishvili and Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili put their cinematic and innovative spin on the 10th installment of their Wordless Shakespeare series. Paata manages to evoke both the humor and pathos of the piece as he juxtaposes the comedy throughout the play with the very human search for love and belonging. Irina’s choreography transforms traditional 1920s dances such as the cakewalk and Charleston into high-octane feats of acrobatics, leaving the audience breathless with each new trick.

Philip Fletcher and Irina Tsikurishvili. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Philip Fletcher and Irina Tsikurishvili. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

The cast works as a well-oiled machine with each member making an indelible impression on the audience. Irina Tsikurishvili as the heroine Viola is both dynamic and vulnerable in equal parts with echoes of Charlie Chaplin in both her physicality and her fake mustache. Fletcher as Orsino is a joy to look at with his incredible sense of physical comedy and timing as he woos the fair Olivia. Gordon as Olivia transforms before our eyes from an overdramatic sad sack into a ravishing sex kitten, easily seducing the insanely flexible and remarkably dapper Mills as Sebastian. The remarkable stamina and talent of the comic relief team is beyond compare, led by the incomparable Gankhuyag and Vato Tsikurishvili. The entire ensemble is as close to perfection as you can get with a cohesion made for the movie screen.

In order to completely send the audience into the 1920s, the design team utilizes a visually pleasing combination of theatrical and cinematic devices. The set design by Phil Charlwood is a Hollywood playground evocative of a movie set of the Golden Age. The lighting design by Colin K. Bills is alternatively warm and cool and helps to establish the more exotic settings such as the ocean and a party yacht.

 Zana Gankhuyag and Vato Tsikurishvili. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Zana Gankhuyag and Vato Tsikurishvili. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Projections by Igor Dmitry are the perfect addition to this production as the flashes of Shakespearean text enhance the silent movie feel. The costumes by Kendra Rai, although mostly in tones of black and white, pop with a variety of patterns and trimmings. Her crowning jewel are the massive clown pants worn by Fabian, in which he carries practically every prop Amy Kellet could provide. The icing on the cake is the music by resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze. Combining the sounds of big band and soft piano underscoring, it gives voice to every character’s inner feelings.

Originally performed at Synetic in 2014, this production of Twelfth Night seems to have gotten better with age. The patented formula of Wordless Shakespeare continues to reign supreme and you should try your hardest to be part of its newest iteration.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Twelfth Night plays through August 7, 2016 at Synetic Theater – 1800 South Bell St. in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

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