It’s a crazy kind of challenge, putting on a Shakespeare play without using any words, but for Synetic it is a prospect that is, quite literally, music to their collective ears. In their (virtually) “Wordless Shakespeare” series, the company continues to revel in delivering the Bard through dance, mime, soundscape and music, with barely a spoken word. If these bold interpretations live outside the power of language, they nevertheless deliver captivating, sensual journeys of mood, mind, and action. See a Synetic Shakespeare and you will experience an entirely new way of feeling and thinking about his plays.
In turning their interpretative eye to Richard III (★★★★), the story of the power-hungry royal who slaughters his way to the top, the company has outdone itself with a production that is as cleverly literal as it is imaginative. If the narrative is pared to its essence, the machinations are replaced with a novel take on the ever-interesting inner landscape of the ruthless, wholly damaged Richard. And in typical Synetic fashion, director Paata Tsikurishvili has kicked it to another, out-of-the-box level. Quite simply, this Richard isn’t fully human.
It’s a premise that plays to just about every Synetic strength. Always leaning dark and mysterious (even in their comedies), the concept of a gloomy, dystopian kingdom is perfect territory for the troupe’s unfettered imaginings. If Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s compositions and Thomas Sowers’ sound design always transport, here they pair with Synetic’s new and unprecedented use of video and projections to bring new and extraordinary sensory dimensions. Haunting and cleverly choreographed, the scenic and multimedia designs of Tennessee Dixon are not just mesmerizing, they create powerful narrative touchstones in the telling of the tale.
Of course, being told through movement and dance — save for a singular spoken focus on Richard’s self-reflection — Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography must carry the day, and it does. Thanks to the video and projected storytelling, she spends less energy here on narrative and more on the emotional junctures of the work. Particularly memorable are her descriptions of grief, with a most beautiful pas de deux between Queen Elizabeth and King Edward as he gently leaves this mortal coil. Her use of round and roiling shapes, the way Elizabeth can never quite grasp her husband, and the interplay with set and projection is subtle and moving. Other standouts are a rousing Court celebration dance and the amassing of Richard’s robot army, both of which enthrall for their blend of art and physicality.
Richard is, without doubt, something of a horror story and Synetic thrillingly ups the ante by turning Richard into a Robocop-gone-wrong. Utterly committed, Alex Mills in the title role does a stellar job of suggesting the amalgam of human and machine and the fraying of nerves and wires. As always, Mills moves with much clarity and conviction — he knows how to tell a story and he well-suggests the scary side of a man without a conscience. That said, little would be lost — and much gained — from editing a few of the many scenes between Richard and his robot henchmen in the “lab.”
Still, the recasting of Richard’s courtiers into robots is inspired, and Ana Tsikurishvili as Tyrell and Scean Aaron as Ratcliffe are real scene stealers. Moving and reacting with sinister affect, they are the constant reminders that intelligence without soul can be terrifying. Though both bring memorable “personality,” Ana in particular captures the insect-like creepiness of her creature.
Other standouts are a vibrantly-drawn Queen Elizabeth and King Edward. As Elizabeth, Irina Tsikurishvili convincingly shows a joyous, loving wife and mother, soon gutted by the deaths of her husband and sons in quick, brutal succession. Her movements and dance in grief are visceral and touching, her later whirlwind in defense of her daughter authentically desperate and determined. Irina remains a gratifyingly expressive, fluid mover, an absolute magnet to the eye. As Edward, Philip Fletcher offers a believable man and, especially in his post-death dance, a marvelously delicate sensibility. As the beleaguered Lady Ann, who succumbs to Richard’s false seductions, Maryam Najafzada acts and moves with compelling understatement.
In smaller roles, as the Prince and Younger Prince, Tim Proudkii and Aaron Kan deliver two very credible teens and bring all the right kind of energy to Irina’s signature playful choreography. As Richard’s erstwhile confidant Buckingham, Matt R. Stover offers effective color to his drugged-addled courtier.
Entertain your fair well-spoken days through this dark and exciting lens as Synetic explores Shakespeare’s greatest villain.
Richard III runs through June 16 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St. in Arlington, Va. Tickets are $19 to $65. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.