A race against time in Synetic Theater’s mesmerizing ‘Romeo & Juliet’

By Haley Huchler

This article was originally published in DC Theater Arts here.

What is Shakespeare without the Bard’s words? Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s Romeo & Juliet at Synetic Theater dares to imagine a Shakespearean tragedy without witty wisecracks or romantic lamentation. The dance-based performance tells the familiar tale with no dialogue, expressing the action and drama of the story through mesmerizing movement, deliberate lighting and sound design, and powerful performances from a cast that knows how to convey emotion without a single word.

The great emphasis of this performance is time. The set design is industrial and sparse, consisting almost solely of large clock gears and a swinging pendulum. Tsikurishvili is keen to introduce time as a character itself — one could say the ultimate villain of the story. In many scenes, the two lovers, Zana Gankhuyag as Romeo and Irina Kavsadze as Juliet, whirl across the stage through shifting gears being spun by other dancers. In other scenes, the dance movements themselves become mechanical and robotic, mimicking the clicking gears of an unforgiving timepiece.

Without dialogue, the old story takes on a fresh simplicity. Plot points are condensed and a few characters are cut from the original material. This allows the show to cleanly and clearly reflect the conflicts and tensions of the story without words. Familiarity with the storyline is a plus, but even for those who haven’t read the star-crossed lovers’ tale in quite some time, the story is easy to follow. Tsikurishvili somehow makes the story feel more timeless than ever in a performance that transcends language.

This presentation of Romeo & Juliet is gritty, dark, and eerie. Without the flowery prose and dirty jokes of the original play, this rendition could easily descend into a place completely grim and hopeless, but moments of humor save it from this fate. Mercutio, played by Tony Amante, brings much-needed comic relief with his electric performance. Amante is lively and hilarious, a feat all the more impressive when you consider he did it without speaking a word. Another performance that brightens up the show is Janine Baumgardner as Nurse. Small moments of physical humor that she brings to the stage are just enough to occasionally make us forget the true tragedy of this tale.

Sound design is crucial to a wordless show, and Konstantine Lortkipanidze (with additional design from Irakli Kavsadze and Paata Tsikurishvili) does a spectacular job of providing the soundtrack. An unusual touch is a beeping sound that returns over and over during moments of intensity, a raw noise that at first might make you think, “Who forgot to turn their phone off?” It’s a jarring and off-putting use of sound, but the unconventional method creates a bleakness that adds a rich texture to the performance. The lighting design by Brian S. Allard adds to the mood, at times making the stage feel completely eerie and spectral.

The performances of the two star-crossed lovers are extraordinary. Irina Kavadsze as Juliet brings a lightness and innocence to the stage, and Zana Gankhuyag is just as sure-footed and confident as you would want a Romeo to be. Their movements are precise and unfaltering. The show excels with a particularly striking scene that uses shadow to convey a moment of intimacy between the two, a moving display that was one of the most memorable points of the performance.

This production of Romeo & Juliet has been brought back to the stage at Synetic Theater many times since its first performance in 2008. This is the last time it will open at the Crystal City location, as Synetic Theater will be on the move as of April. This bittersweet occasion makes the show feel even more powerful and exciting. Just as Romeo and Juliet run out the clock, so does the Synetic Theater company. However, while the ending is tragic for our Shakespearean lovers, the Synetic Theater is sure to use this as a fresh start, a chance to explore new venues and new ideas, and if Romeo and Juliet is anything to go off of, I’m sure whatever they do next will be fantastic.

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