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Alex Mills, that shrewd and knavish sprite, is back acting at Synetic Theater. He’s alternately called Robin Goodfellow, Hobgoblin, and sweet Puck, and whatever work he does in the company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he brings good luck.
As Puck, Mills is the definitive merry wanderer of the night, and he’s a major reason Synetic has reprised this production from 2009. This past season, he worked at both Studio and Signature theaters, where he was hired, no doubt, because he can do much more than just bend over backward. But he bends over backward so, so well. Midsummer isn’t the most cohesive of Synetic’s nine silent Shakespeare productions, but it remains spine-tingling, spellbinding, and very entertaining. Mills, the hyper-flexible guy Synetic needed to paint himself DayGlo blue and crab-walk ’round the eerie onstage forest once again, deserves much of the credit.
Even in conventional productions of Midsummer, directors often have the three sets of characters inhabit different worlds. In their movement-based version, director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili create a fairyland inspired by Bollywood. There’s some textual basis for this. India, you may recall, is the birthplace of the changeling boy that Titania and Oberon haggle over. It’s something of a manufactured plot point that requires a child actor. The Tsikurishvilis make Puck that changeling, and the idea that he’s fighting for his adopted parents’ attention, and putting the two at odds, is cleverly conveyed by Mills’ expressive face and onstage antics. Puck’s birth is depicted in an opening prologue that finds the Synetic cast spinning around with their arms out and elbows bent at 90 degree angles. Lined up with a candle in each palm, the ensemble evokes a many-armed Hindu deity.
The world of the Rude Mechanicals, by contrast, appears to be a working-class piano bar just east of Baltimore. There’s a biker dude, some grungy flannel types, and men in ill-fitting suits. Tickling the ivories on a rolling upright is Konstantine Lortkipanidze, Synetic’s composer-in-residence. Irakli Kavsadze channels Charlie Chaplin as Bottom, and ties his excellent mimework to Lortkipanidze’s finger strokes at the piano. Slow = melodrama. Fast = slapstick.
The courtly humans in this production are costumed in Synetic’s typical goth-formal dress. Irina Kavsadze (Hermia) and Emily Whitworth (Helena) solidify their friendship with a clever opening ballroom dance, yet are fantastic when it comes time to catfight later, once Puck has deviously dusted both Lysander and Demetrius in the eyes and the two men tear the skirts off Helena.
One of the play’s finest moments finds the two worlds intertwining, and Puck and Oberon (Philip Fletcher) attempting to get the women sleeping in the right guys’ arms. After much artful rolling around onstage, they sort things out, and the couples awake to create a proposal scene worthy of a Zales commercial.
It’s Puck who gets the closing lines in the play, and while Mills doesn’t get to ask the audience for a hand, “if we be friends,” it was pretty clear from the standing ovation on the night I attended that all was mended, and none offended. As long as Mills’ wanderings never take him too far from Synetic.