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Review: ‘Hansel and Gretel’ at Synetic Theater

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Synetic Theater presents a imaginative re-telling of a beloved classic with their wordless production of Hansel and Gretel. Directed and choreographed by co-adaptors Tori Bertocci and Elena Velasco, this exciting production manages to speak volumes without uttering a single word!

Sharisse Taylor and Justin J. Bell. Photograph by Johnny Shryock.

Onstage, Scenic Designer Philip da Costa presents an average department store decorated for the holidays. However, a hazy glow suggests an ethereal tone, a sort of playful hum that hints that not all is as it seems. Lighting Designer Kelly Rudolph and Resident Composer and Sound Designer Konstantine Lortkipanidze work together to drive the plot through music and sound. Since there is no dialogue to carry the story, both designers had tall orders, and both fully delivered. Creative, thoughtful melodies reflect the action onstage. From chirpy bells and playful strings to deep, swallowing bass, music mirrors mood scene-for-scene along with lighting, my favorite being some intimidating shadow-work that helps introduce the Witch.

Speaking of the Witch, Properties Master

Justin J. Bell, Philip de Costa, and Sharisse Taylor. Photograph by Johnny Shyrock.

delivers some extraordinary puppetry in this show, working alongside Costume Designer Dominique Gaddy to create memorable, unique pieces for the characters. Raven Wilkes makes walking on stilts (yes, stilts!) look easy as the towering Witch, and moves with grace and poise while portraying a regal stag. The show requires endless, expressive movement, and the actors all work together seamlessly. Sharisse Taylor shines as thoughtful, cautious Gretel, and Justin J. Bell gives an energetic, thrilling performance as Hansel.

The story of Hansel and Gretel is seen through a different lens in this show, and not only because it is wordless. It becomes apparent early on that Hansel is differently abled, and requires constant supervision. While their babysitter gets easily frustrated with Hansel, Gretel is able to calm him, using a special hand-holding gesture to get him to re-focus. However, it isn’t easy, and they spend a good deal of time chasing each other around the stage until they finally run headlong into one another– a collision that brings them to a magical world full of adventure and excitement.

Hansel and Gretel must work together to navigate this new world, leaning on each other’s strengths when needed. When eager Hansel startles a stag, Gretel shows him how to use a gentler approach to make a new friend. Hansel, in turn, is able to pull Gretel out of her safe shell so that she can enjoy the new wonders around her. When they happen upon a massive gingerbread house with an even more massive occupant, their united front and true connection is the only thing that can save them.

Synetic Theater’s  Hansel and Gretel encourages imagination, and through its creative delivery allows room for endless interpretations. One thing stands clear, however: engaging with others who have unique and diverse qualities makes us stronger, and is something to be celebrated. Truly a beautiful show with a beautiful sentiment.

Running Time:  55 minutes, without an intermission.

Hansel and Gretel plays through December 23, 2017 at Synetic Theater– 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA. Purchase your tickets by calling (866) 811-4111 or order them online.

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