If you are at all hesitant about returning to live theater, try this thought exercise: it is the moment before a performance begins, and you are comfortably chatting away, enjoying the hubbub. Suddenly the lights go down and you’re plunged into darkness. It is jarring and disorienting, and room falls silent. You sit in the pitch-black, senses focused, mind sharp. The trivia of the day evaporates, worries shift to the back burner. You feel the crowd around you, rapt, waiting — like you — to see what happens next.
Why not make it Synetic’s Dracula?
Fun, spooky, and well-ventilated, Synetic’s dance-theater ode to the king of vampires is just about the best way to get back into it. There is artful movement and acrobatics, fast and furious story-telling, and the immensely creative use of props — all set to an extraordinary electronic score.
Add powerful doses of murderous gothic mayhem, witty humor, and a touch of the erotic and there is everything here to remind you of why live theater can never be replaced by a screen.
Taking the role of Dracula is a suitably charismatic Dan Istrate, who relishes all that is creepy, but also compelling about the fanged seducer. He has particular chemistry with Rachael Small’s Lucy, one of Dracula’s first victims upon his arrival in England in search of fresh blood.
Small is a strong and fluid mover and her dances with Istrate are powerfully visual, as well as visceral. Another stand-out is the other-worldly performance of Justin J. Bell as the demon that first possesses Dracula. Paired with Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography, this is movement that truly elevates the storytelling.
As Dracula’s three demon wives, Maryam Najafzada, Irene Hamilton, and Anna Tsikurishvili provide powerful continuity as they further their master’s wishes and wreak their own brand of havoc.
Their dancing is sinewy, athletic and so seamlessly in sync, they are utterly believable as everything from flames to horses to winsome beguilers of unsuspecting men.
As Lucy’s three suitors, Philip Fletcher’s Holmwood, Pablo Guillen’s Dr. Seward, and Bells’ Quincey bring plenty of energy. In the role of Jonathan, Dracula’s lawyer and Mina’s betrothed, Jacob Thompson is suitably disconcerted and is an appealing mime and mover. A little less on the mark is Renata Loman’s Van Helsing, with a performance that is a shade too self-conscious and a voice that needs a tad more projection.
If there is anything else that dampens the proceedings, it’s the spoken parts, which — as has often been the case with Synetic — tend to slightly break the fiction. One minute we are deep in a wild, mysterious world and the next, we hear a voice that sounds like the voice-over in a mattress ad. There is no solution except the dedicated services of a voice coach.
What does work here, are many of the actors with accents. As Dracula’s servant Renfield, Irakli Kavsadze (who is also the show’s sound designer) is memorable as he wanders the stage voicing his mortal despair. Similarly, as Dracula’s love interest Mina, Nutsa Tediashvili’s accent is perhaps incongruous but not in any way grating and she proves convincing as an unassuming young woman trying to make sense of the impossible and the tragic.
With ample, spacious seating and a mask requirement, Synetic’s Crystal City home is an excellent place to relaunch a return to live theater. Just like this epic tale of the king of amorous, blood-sucking vampires, it’s a safe way to enjoy the thrill of a little darkness.
Dracula (★★★★☆) runs through Nov. 6 at Synetic Theatre, 1800 S. Bell Street in Arlington, Va. Tickets are $20 to $60.
Visit www.synetictheater.org or call 703-824-8060, x117.
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