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Silencing Shakespeare

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Synetic's'Romeo and Juliet' Illustrates Power of Action over Words

In an overly loquacious town like D.C., it’s a relief when a theater company answers the calling to feed our other senses of perception. Synetic Theater, with its nonverbal brilliance, has again proven that action speaks louder than words—even when it comes to master wordsmith William Shakespeare.

Still riding high from widespread praise for its silent “Macbeth” adaptation as well as the Helen Hayes Award-winning “Hamlet… the rest is silence,” Synetic has raised its own bar with a wordless adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.” This age-old, tragic romance has never been so fresh and sensually powerful as it is in this production.

Using words to describe this strictly gesture-filled theatrical piece almost seems out of place, but if pressed, the adjectives unique, beautiful, sensitive and fluid come to mind. This is a dance version of “Romeo and Juliet” that meshes the costumes and stylized period of Shakespeare with the forceful immediacy of “West Side Story.”

The caliber of dancing coupled with Irina Tsikurishvili’s eye-popping choreography carries the audience to thrilling heights along a rapid 90-minute trance, with no intermission. And the actors’ adeptness at stage combat and acrobatics help to execute the sophisticated modern dance movements flawlessly.

Talented set designer Anastasia Ryurikov Simes (who also created the haunting paintings on display in the theater lobby) sets the entire play inside a huge clock. Precious moments tick away as the characters dance and relate to each other among the mammoth machinery cogs, gears and a giant pendulum. As the action tenses, the machinery comes to frantic life and time seems to speed up, propelling the star-crossed young lovers to their inevitable ends. It is as if the characters are helplessly caught in this surreal diorama over which they have no control.

It is important to note that “nonverbal” in this production does not mean silence. Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s technique of replacing speech with movement, dance, mime and music is rich enough so that the words are not missed.

To accomplish this feat, the action takes place against the backdrop of Synetic Resident Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s haunting score, which starts off with a soft ticking (the workings of a clock) that gradually morphs into heavy, pulsating heartbeats. Meanwhile, Lortkipanidze, couched high above the play’s set but still visible to the audience, seems to orchestrate the characters with his music-like puppets on strings.

Next are the earthly sounds of human breath. A dying Mercutio’s blood-curdling scream—one of the play’s only vocals—stings the audience with much more force than had it been intertwined with voices. The same is true of a rare heavy gasp for air from a warring Montague or Capulet following an extreme, physical fight.

Never during the play is this intensity dropped. The characters are in perpetual movement, even when they are not engaged in difficult, athletic choreography. The lovers resemble swans as they kiss, curling their long, sinewy arms and fingers in sensual circles behind their backs. The curling-finger dance is echoed by hands peeping out through the openings in the cogs. And even those characters not in the play’s immediate action are upstage, set in motion to their own realities.

As an ensemble, the production is seamless. When broken down to individual characters, it is flawless. Willowy actress Courtney Pauroso as Juliet—the unblemished nymph who eternally seeks her soul mate—and Ben Cunis as Romeo, her naïve but unshakable lover, generate an idyllic electricity that doesn’t falter.

Juliet’s nurse, usually portrayed by a maternal, stout woman, is played here by the youthful, fetching and feisty Marissa Molnar. She turns benign movements such as trudging across the stage in search of her maiden into a miming work of art. In fact, her rigorous dancing matches the fellas in the scene where she’s taunted by Romeo’s pack, but remarkably she never breaks character as the doting female.

Perhaps the most animated and entertaining of the bunch is Philip Fletcher, who fits Mercutio’s wisecracking persona like a glove. Fletcher’s physical agility turns his movements into hot liquid, and his comedic timing and athleticism steal the stage.

One of the most heightened moments of passion during the production is created by lighting director Colin Bills. With a white fabric stretched across the stage and creative light beams, Bills simulates a tender lovemaking scene between Romeo and Juliet. The lovers’ shadows embrace and fondle, and grow and ebb, in a flickering, fleeting way that foreshadows their misfortune.

It’s not a surprise then that the only thing capable of bringing an end to such high-pitched fervor is the lovers’ untimely deaths. Only fatality can silence the deafening thunder created by this talented cast that manages to speak volumes without any words.

Romeo and Juliet through March 8 Rosslyn Spectrum 1611 North Kent St., Arlington, Va. Tickets are to . For more information, please call (703) 824-8060 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

About the Author

Lisa Troshinsky is the theater reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999