On Stage: Dante’s Inferno

Everything works brilliantly in Synetic Theater’s wordless version of Dante’s Inferno. 

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Tori Bertocci (Beatrice), Alex Mills (Virgil), Philip Fletcher (Lucifer) and Demons and Souls (Photo by Koko Lanham)

For one hour and 20 uninterrupted, breathtaking minutes, Synetic Theater takes us through a nightmarish version of Dante’s Inferno, the poet Dante Alighieri’s 700 year old depiction of hell that has terrified humans down through the centuries and remains the contemporary definition of the eternal punishment for sin.

Everything works brilliantly in Synetic’s wordless production: the dark black set, the writhing choreography, the lighting, the eerie costuming, the haunting musical score and the energetic movements of a strong, accomplished cast.

Taken from first part of “The Divine Comedy” trilogy, Paata Tsikurishvili has created and adapted with Nathan Weinberger, a tightly focused version of Dante’s magnum opus, and under the direction of Irina Tsikurishvili, Synetic Theater has once again presented a unique theatrical experience. It may be significant that this production runs until Halloween eve when all manner of devils and grotesques roam the world.

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Philip Fletcher (Demon) and Katrina Clark (Soul) (Photo by Koko Lanham)

In Dante’s 14th century epic poem that begins on the eve of Good Friday, the poet, led by the ancient Roman poet Virgil enters the gates of Hell to descent through the nine circles of eternal punishment for such capital sins as lust, gluttony, greed and hypocrisy with the punishments of each circle growing more grotesque.

Dante, a stocky, muscular Vato Tsikurishvili, is up to the demanding journey and capable of holding his own among the horrifying demons. He is rarely ever off stage. Dante is in search of his lost love Beatrice, who was a real life love of Dante who died young. Synetic’s Beatrice is an ethereal Tori Bertocci, an actress with sensuous movements whose normally dark hair has been bleached blonde to symbolize a lost innocence.

Alex Mills, a familiar veteran Synetic performer, is the ancient Roman poet Virgil, whose famous poem, “The Aeneid,” was an inspiration for Dante’s massive trilogy. Mills was also the production’s movement director, deftly controlling the undulating movements of the demons and writhing souls of the damned.

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From Left to Right: John Millward (Soul), Emma Lou Hebert (Soul), Chris Willumsen (Demon) and Lauren Ashley (Soul) (Photo by Koko Lanham)

Mills’ costume, a diaphanous, soft blue gown with veil and crown made him at first seem feminine and never seems to fit his role. All the other costume and scenic design of Anastasia Simes was effectively eerie and nightmarish. The black set with dark triangles representing the open maw of hell, evoked the looming pain and terror and the unforgiving demons who awaited there.

Simes paid special attention to costuming Lucifer, a truly frightening Philip Fletcher who will haunt audiences into attempting to avoid sin. No one wants to meet that demon in an afterlife. Especially complimentary to the frightening atmosphere was Mary Keegan’s lighting design and the sometimes shrill, sometime ominous music directed by Irakli Kavsadze.

Like so many other Synetic productions, this shows the genius of the creative talent that is such a significant part of the Crystal City-based theater. It is surprising that the Synetic Theater isn’t sold out to standing room only audiences, since the artistic vision there is so accomplished.

This production stages a young, agile, cast of talented movement artists that also includes: Lauren Ashley, Chris Galindo, Justin J. Bell, Emma Lou Hebert, Katrina Clark, Anne Flowers, Shu-nan Chu, John Millward, Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly, Chris Willumsen, George Kamushadze and Nutsa Tediashvili.

“Dante’s Inferno” runs through October 30 at Synetic Theater. Tickets are available here. 

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