City Paper is not for tourists
Water dances intoxicatingly with light, and with sound; it transforms skin, and fabric, in intriguing ways. It slicks leather, arcs gracefully in the air, shimmers on bodies and slips seductively along a metal edge. So the only wonder about the Synetic Theater’s decision to stage one of its signature wordless dramas on a flooded stage is that it took so long: Light and sound and skin and silks, leather and bodies and steel are elemental ingredients of the Synetic style, and fluid movement is what binds them all together. Water could only amplify the magic, right? Well, maybe—remember that water is a solvent, too. And for all the striking moments it enables in King Arthur, the bold new venture at Synetic’s new Crystal City home (the company has taken up permanent residence in the space that was Arena Stage’s temporary venue), it poses a challenge. There’s the obvious: splash risk. (Those in the front rows should bring a poncho.) And the less obvious: Those inclined to ruminate, when narrative momentum flags, on the mechanics of making theater will wonder about things like how warm the pool is, why some costumes seem to shed water and some seem to cling to it, how actors and swords and staves and such manage to disappear entirely into what turns out to be a rather shallow pond, whether those knights have non-slip soles on their tall leather boots. Note, too, that the narrative momentum does flag, despite the typically athletic staging from the director-chorographer team of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili. The story’s bones are probably familiar to most, but as they trace them from the deception that leads to Arthur’s conception to the deception that leads to the birth of his bastard through to the fatal attraction that grows between his queen and the first of his knights, adapters Ben Cunis (onstage all night as Arthur) and Paata Tsikurishvili allow the specifics to get muddy; fight sequences, impressive as they are, bleed into one another after a while, and you’ll want to consult the program notes ahead of time for help distinguishing your Ladies of the Lake from your Morgan le Fays. And yet: Synetic consistently does some of the most visually inventive work on Washington stages, and King Arthur is no exception. After a moody, gray-and-black stretch of rising action, the Tsikurishvilis bring us to Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding and coronation, and as Andrew F. Griffin warms up the lights, the queen pulls on a russet robe to complement Arthur’s regal new silver-and-gold tunic. Gleaming, suddenly, at the center of a court that now seems vividly alive, they kiss, and then as Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s score leaps into surging major-key arpeggios for what will prove too short a season and the knights of Camelot stir up a rain of glittering droplets—a positively magical stand-in for the rice we might shower lesser just-married mortals with—they dance. And in that moment, the strange sorceries of the Synetic style prove as potent as ever.