On Stage: Silence Is Golden

by Chuck Conconi

REVIEW: Taking a tight-lipped approach to Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night.’

Irinia Tsikurishvili as Viola with Ensemble. (Photo by Koko Lanham)

Irinia Tsikurishvili as Viola with Ensemble. (Photo by Koko Lanham)

If only William Shakespeare had lived to see what director Paata Tsikurishvili has done with his production of “Twelfth Night” at Synetic Theater, he would probably have been bemused. Shakespeare has always been about the words, the poetry, but Tsikurishvili sees it differently — his interpretation is a production without words, or silent Shakespeare. The bard might have enviously wondered why he hadn’t thought of such a colorful way to do “Twelfth Night.”

This is the 10th installment of the silent Shakespeare series and the enthusiastic and amazingly energetic Synetic players treat the audience to what can simply be described as a fun-filled hour-and-forty-minute, non-stop production of the kind of movement and dance that looks exhausting. But the company seems to enjoy every minute of the acrobatic mayhem demanded of them and the members are young enough to accomplish it.

Movement and dance are inadequate words to describe the unique choreography of the director’s wife, Irina Tsikurishvili, who is also a principle dancer. She is such a presence that it is almost impossible to take your eyes off of her, no matter how many other dancers are performing with her.

Tsikurishvili has set his “Twelfth Night” in the 1920s and centers the action as a silent film-era production. It is not one of Shakespeare’s better plays. It has to do with the shallowness of the people involved and a twin sister and brother, Viola and Sebastian, who are washed away in a storm at sea. The opening storm scene, especially with a toy model cruise ship and a sloshing aquarium tank, is an inspired, funny concept.

Both believe the other has perished in the storm. It is fitting that Tsikurishvili came up with the idea of making a silent film since there are times when the antics on stage more resemble a Max Sennett comedy.

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There is the usual Shakespeare ploy of mistaken identity with Viola dressing up as a boy named Cesario. Duke Orsino (Philip Fletcher) uses Cesario as a go-between to send love notes to Olivia (Kathy Gordon), who isn’t interested in the Duke and falls instead for Cesario, who — adding to the complexity — falls in love with Orsino.

Sebastian, doesn’t recognize his sister in her Cesario disguise, but looks enough like her to add to the confusion. It is an all-too familiar mix of high or low comedy, however you see it, and ends with the mistaken identities straightened out, the reunion of the lost twins and each ending up with the one they desire. The plot fades in importance, and as Shakespeare might have observed, the play is the thing.

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Colin K. Bills’ lighting design and Thomas Sowers’ sound design are intricate, significant elements that make the production work as effectively as it does. Kenda Rai’s costumes, at times wildly crazy and at other times reminiscent of the period, stand out as strong visual elements.

The Tsikurishvilis have found a way to be creatively clever without being pretentiously artsy. They have created a happy evening of slapstick theater. Every aspect of the production works and the venerable Bard, who was a master of getting laughs at the Globe Theatre, would have enjoyed seeing his work without words.

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Twelfth Night” continues through February 16 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S Bell St, Arlington, VA 22202. Tickets start at $35 and are available at 866-811-4111 and online here.

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