At least once a season, Arlington’s Synetic Theater puts on a show with the target demographic of tween boys. That’s not something that can be said of any other performing arts troupe in Washington, so if you know any adolescent kids who dislike musicals and Julius Caesar, take them to Treasure Island, the latest literary adaptation from the physical theater company based out of a former movie theater in Crystal City.
Synetic is best known for mounting “wordless” productions of Shakespearean classics in which the story unspools through movement and music. Treasure Island has a script, and as with so many other Synetic adaptations, it’s a bit of a drawback. Tori Tolentino (previously known around town as Tori Bertucci) is credited as the director, and adapted the script alongside her husband, Dallas Tolentino. While Treasure Island is not a romance, these two did meet-cute at the theater, acting and assistant directing before taking on a whole show on their own. Resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze contributed the canned cinematic music, and many other Synetic regulars appear in the program.
The tight, nurturing environment at Synetic is both a blessing and a curse. The theater develops outstanding talent from its teen company and local colleges, and many Synetic artists go on to work with other D.C. theaters. Yet watching Treasure Island left me wishing the theater would collaborate with outside playwrights more often. (One successful example was 2014’s Three Men in a Boat, written and directed by Georgetown professor Derek Goldman.) Jim Hawkins narrates Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 serialized novel, recounting his boyhood adventures years later, after other characters “asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping back nothing but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is treasure not yet lifted.”
Given the source material, and the known weakness of some of Synetic’s actors when it comes to vocalizing, Treasure Island is a story that would have benefitted from an onstage narrator. Instead, a myriad of characters (including seven triple-cast actors) are awkwardly introduced via dialogue as they appear onstage. Thus a crotchety barkeep introduces us to “the orphan Jane Hawkins” by yelling at “orphan Jane Hawkins” to keep mopping even when “old friend Billy Bones” walks in. And on and on throughout the 19-character, 70-minute show.
Transforming the hero Jim into heroine Jane will not raise the eyebrows of any youthful audience members. Adults, however, may be distracted: One of these men asking Jane to board his ship might well be a predator. Anne Flowers gamely plays Jane, and she’s most expressive when observing, like when she peeps out of an apple barrel, eyes widening as she eavesdrops on mutinous schemes planned by Long John Silver and members of the Hispaniola’s crew.
The onstage vessel would make any shipyard proud. Scenic designer Phil Charlwood’s skeleton of a prow rotates to reveal a gangplank, used with great effectiveness to convey a near shipwreck. The theater spared no expenses on lighting and dry ice fog machines, which set the mood for tempestuous scenes that will lure in viewers accustomed to small screen entertainment. If the live-action storm doesn’t get them, wait for the Yo-Ho-Ho-and-A-Bottle-of-Rum celebration. Land ho and shore leave for all! Synetic’s dance sequences are epic, and the mash-up of contemporary hip-hop moves and Celtic jigs that Tolentino and the cast created for Treasure Island competes with any you’d see by resident choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili.
Soon everyone but Jane is a drunken mess, even the reluctant-to-chug Captain Smollett. Synetic newcomer Billie Krishawn helms the Hispaniola, and more or less the whole show, with a commanding voice and movement presence. Krishawn has already distinguished herself at the region’s non-Equity theaters, including Theater Alliance and Constellation Theatre Company. She’d be my nominee for a quasi-narrator to more smoothly steer the rocky script. As it is, however, raise a glass (adult beverage or soda) to this highly entertaining hunt for treasure.
To Aug. 18 at 1800 South Bell St., Arlington. $19–$65. (866) 811-4111. synetictheater.org.