In Synetic Theater’s ‘Joy,’ two fearless performers get personal

Intimate, revealing memoirs told with music and movement live online.

Synetic Theater is renowned for its lively, “silent,” physical-movement–oriented productions of classic theatrical works propelled by original music. Now, with precautions necessary to combat the COVID pandemic, Synetic has once again developed its own way to bring theater performers and audiences together. Its new show Joy is a distinctive, live production of original content and technical design brought to viewers through Zoom.

Synetic’s Joy is interactive and thought provoking. It is contemporary storytelling with a deeply self-revealing memoir-ish arc. Joy is performed in two separate but parallel versions at different curtain times. Both were conceived and adapted by Christopher Rushing. One is performed by Synetic company member Vato Tsikurishvili as directed by Paata Tsikurishvili; the other, by DC-area performer Maria Simpkins, directed by Katherine DuBois. 

Vato Tsikurishvili and Maria Simpkins in ‘Joy.’ Photo courtesy of Synetic Theater.

Not only does Synetic’s Joy physically move and buoyantly dance propelled by music with a plentitude of sounds; Joy speaks with the inviting voices and dialogue of its two performers.

Maria and Vato have explicit, dramatic conversations with the viewers, eyeball to eyeball. Each has a rousing, gripping, head-spinning, and inspiring tale. Sharing their storylines with viewers, they add movements and dancing. Ticket buyers can be sent an advance “prop box” containing small, neatly wrapped objects that can further tie the audience to the production and the performers. Opening and using it is a treat.

Maria and Vato speak in a very personal, heartfelt tone that takes on the conversational quality of a self-revealing self-portrait. Their journeys to find joy and live with resilience have vastly different trajectories as they expose their inner beings. Their performances include snippets and snatches of work they have performed in the past. These previous performances include fine digital post-production work that adds visual and aural stimulation. 

Vato Tsikurishvili in ‘Joy.’ Photo courtesy of Synetic Theater.

Joy with Vato Tsikurishvili tells the story of a brooding, angry young boy caught between two vastly different worlds: the war-torn Georgia dealing with the breakup of the Soviet Union and then the initial sweetness of the United States that turns murky and dark. Reality and fiction collide. There are scenes of war as well as the delights of becoming an artist like his parents, Synetic cofounders Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili. There is sadness and joy. Some scenes will grab and shake viewers as they wonder how the young boy will make it through to some kind of joyfulness. To give away the details would be a disservice to your own connection to Vato’s performance. Some little hints: the central place of parents to find joy is remarkably presented, not hidden away. Certain cute treasures some might remember from their own childhoods are adorable gems. 

The fine electronic music used in Vato’s Joy is from Synetic veteran Knstantine Lortkipanidze, with terrific movement and choreography designed by Irina Tsikurishvili. The sound designer is Thomas Sowers with digital content and stage effects by Ana Tsikurishvili.

Maria Simpkins in ‘Joy.’ Photo courtesy of Synetic Theater.

Joy with Maria Simpkins uses her well-honed bold dance skills and her love for poetry to deliver her deeply personal anecdotes of her pursuit of joy and becoming an actor: “My body was my words.” She was in a world as a “Black artist in a white space.” Would she find her own elation?

With a sunny smile and direct eye contact, Simpkins makes clear that her mother and one specific local artistic director were key to her journey through her childhood discovering ballroom dancing to finding joy in the theater. She often looks directly into the eyes of the audience when speaking of trying to reclaim her identity. She does not shy away from speaking about her personal struggles and the impact of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.  Simpkins’s Joy lively and sensual choreography is designed by Katherine Zukeri, with music composition and sound design by Sinan Refik Zafar.

To call the two versions of Joy merely intimate, aspirational autobiographical tales ​about two individuals is an understatement. Who among us would be so willing to present our inner selves to such public view not knowing what the reaction might be?

Please do find your own Joy as Simpkins and Tsikurishvili perform their revealing memoirs. It’s rare that such personal, first-person stories are fearlessly told to an audience.   

Running time: About 60 minutes

Synetic Theater’s Joy  is performed through November 8, 2020, on Zoom. The show is live, not a streamed video. Tickets for each performance are capped at 25 households and available online.

The ‘Joy’ prop box. Photo courtesy of Synetic Theater.

About the hand-selected prop box: Ticket holders will receive a package of props in the mail for use during the show to kick off their journey back to joy. When purchasing tickets, be sure to include a current shipping address. Synetic Theater advises: Please don’t leave this until the last minute; some specific interactions with the materials will be required before the show. We ask for at least four days to mail the materials.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Metro Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.

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