Metro Weekly

Beastly Behavior: Synetic’s Island of Dr. Moreau

Synetic Theatre merges words and movement in their latest take on a classic

Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau Photo by Johnny Shryock
Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau – Photo: Johnny Shryock

The truth is that whenever Synetic stops dancing and starts talking, things get complicated. There is little doubt that when this innovative company sticks to dance, movement, mime and music, they deliver, more often than not, a transcendent storytelling experience. Their interpretations of theater and literary classics are extraordinarily immersive, seamlessly exploring narratives with powerfully inventive dance and music in multiple genres.

When they add the unaltered human voice, however, they add a dimension that changes the dynamic. First, they must quiet the music that so often drives the action and the emotion, and, second, they must accommodate whatever voice their dancer may deliver, trained or untrained. Both factors, by necessity, interrupt the dance/music continuum. The question is: can it be made to add rather than subtract?

In the case of the Island of Dr. Moreau, the answer is “nearly.”

Although Synetic’s Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili speak with the presence and rhythms of trained actors, their younger dancers have historically fared less well. And it has been a bit of a problem. No fiction in the world can hold up to the Valley-speak of the young and untutored American voice.

Thankfully, in this production, things are looking up. The two young leads — Alex Mills as Parker, the young scientist shipwrecked on Dr. Moreau’s island, and Dallas Tolentino as Moreau’s assistant, Montgomery — know where they should be heading, even if they are not quite there yet. Matters are helped even more by the strong emphasis on moral debate that soon flares between Parker and Moreau. The content of these verbal sequences are interesting enough to take precedence over the voices.

But, even with these improvements, when compared to the all-encompassing sounds and music of Irakli Kavsadze and Konstantine Lortkipanidze and the spectacular dance and mime, the small and flatter moments of the spoken word are rather stark. It’s a dilemma that may require a bit more ingenuity to overcome.

Still, the music and dance carry this production and they alone are more than enough to make this an exciting interpretation of H.G. Wells’ strange tale of Dr. Moreau and the island creatures he so mercilessly controls. The ensemble pieces, in which the creatures suffer at the doctor’s hands, rally themselves for rebellion or attack, are excitingly and imaginatively choreographed by Ms. Tsikurishvili and are as emotionally and intellectually expressive as they are physically entertaining.

As the morally unhinged Moreau, Mr. Tsikurishvili is charismatic in both his darkly driven moments and in the fewer but distinctly comic ones. Like his wife, Tsikurishvili is the keeper of the Synetic vision, and when, in one sequence, he exerts his control over the creatures, we see just how strong this vision is. With powerfully mimed movements keeping time with the rhythmically relentless music, he invisibly hoists and binds his dancers, bringing a uniquely grim and fascinating imagery to a story many will know only as a cheesy vehicle for Michael York.

Though the chemistry is not wholly there with Tsikurishvili, taken on his own, Mills gives his Parker an unaffected guilelessness that works well with his gradual realization that there is something very wrong with Moreau and his island. With a lot of presence and the kind of eyes that have seen it all, Tolentino fills his space with an interesting vibe, though the hip flask is a prop where less would have been more. As Feline, Moreau’s unfortunate favorite amongst the island creatures, Tori Bertocci offers a clean expressiveness that allows the truths of her tortured woman/animal to come across clearly.

The long and lean Philip Fletcher as Creature delivers an edginess and smooth athleticism to his dancing, especially in the fight scenes, while Pasquale Guiducci’s Sayer is a weird and wonderful presence — not least due to Kendra Rai’s striking costumes. As a whole, the ensemble beasts are fluid and powerful movers, each bringing just enough identity without breaking the cohesion of their herd, though Sharisse Taylor stands out for an eye-catching charisma. Finally, as Moreau’s daughter, Eliza Smith creates an extraordinary vision of a strange child who is far more than she seems.

Like most Synetic productions, Mr. Tsikurishvili’s direction maintains a good tension between narrative and imagination. But the interludes of speech bring those lulls and lags that dampen the tight pacing. Somewhere, there needs to be a touch of compensatory editing. The real question is whether it should be in words or movement. The vote here is for words, perhaps all of them. Still, Synetic should be allowed their experiments. They’re a lot less bloody than Dr. Moreau’s.

The Island of Dr. Moreau () runs through Nov. 2 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St. in Arlington. Tickets are $20 to $95. Call 866-811-4111 or visit

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