Director and Synetic Theater co-founder Paata Tsikurishvili has presented us with a highly creative conceit. He has taken Edgar Allan Poe’s iconic Gothic poem “The Raven” and his macabre short story of a ruined family in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and overlaid them in canny juxtaposition. Bracketed by Poe’s romantic poem “Lenore,” used here as a reference to Poe’s lost love. By setting the story in the corrupt and most evil house of Usher we see Poe’s tortured soul as he anguishes over what came to be his first successful poem, later known as one of the greatest poems ever written. It’s a clever mashup that neatly combines Poe’s extraordinary gift for the Victorian horror genre with the artistic license and brilliant originality Synetic Theater is famous for.
By invitation, Poe arrives at the house to visit his old friend Roderick, who is clearly in the middle of a nervous breakdown. He is expected to soothe Roderick and jolly him up as old friends do. But Poe is not in any condition to offer solace, as he too is at his wits’ end, and the haunting of the house, the eerie sound of the distant bells, and the walls that seem to speak of death and destruction do not bode well for this country retreat.
In a clear departure from their silent productions, Synetic has chosen to have speaking actors, and we are guided by Poe’s words, which lie in the thin line between genius and madness. This is not for the kiddies, as there is the incestuous relationship between Roderick Usher, the opium-smoking scion of Usher House, and his beautiful sister Madeline, who suffers from unpredictable seizures. Add to that a house imbued with horror, a catatonic servant, and a pack of angry wraiths that turn up wherever and whenever they like. It is deliciously horrific — if that’s your cup of tea — and I think I’ll have a cuppa, if it’s no trouble at all.
I was completely taken by The Raven with its steel talons and black plumed avian figure played hypnotically by Maryam Najafzada, who is sheer magic in the role; and Nutsa Tediashvili as Madeline, who floats weightlessly or frighteningly depending on whether she is convulsing or walking about in a dreamlike state and appearing as if she just stepped out of an Alphonse Mucha painting; and Megan Khaziran as Lenore, who is ethereal as Poe’s doomed inamorata.
If you’re familiar with Synetic’s productions, you know that they are packed to the hilt with physically demanding classical and modern dance, acrobatics, chaos, and fierce fighting scenes. Romantic pas de deux are followed by tempestuous battles and accompanied by atmospheric electronic and synth-pop music and seat-vibrating sound effects.
All in all, it’s a perfectly ghoulish night at the theater.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
The Madness of Poe plays through October 31, 2021, at Synetic Theater in the underground Crystal City Shops, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA. Tickets are $10-$60 and are available online, at the theater box office (open an hour before showtime), or by phone at (703) 824-8060 ext. 117.
Synetic Theater’s COVID Safety Protocols are here.
Starring Ryan Sellers as Edgar; Alex Mills as Roderick; Maryam Najafzada as The Raven; Philip Fletcher as Servant; and Megan Khaziran as Lenore; with Scean Aaron, Aaron Kan, and Ariel Kraje in the ensemble.
Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili; Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili; Associate Choreographer, Maryam Najafzada; Adapted by Katherine DuBois; Original Adaption of “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Nathan Weinberger; Costume Design by Alexa Duimstra; Scenic and Property Design by Phil Charlwood; Sound Design by Justin Schmitz; and Lighting Design by Doug Del Pizzo.
SEE ALSO: Synetic to produce next season both in person and on film (season announcement)