City Paper is not for tourists
The visual splendors typically served up by the movement-focused Synetic Theater ensemble have not gone under-described among chroniclers of the Washington stage, so let’s just say that, yes, the company’s work on Antony and Cleopatra is as richly conceived and as confidently executed as ever. There are precious few D.C. performers, after all, who’d dare undertake to illustrate a passionate collision of titanic personalities with an athletic upright coupling atop a 20-foot pyramid; at a Synetic show, though, you see Ben Cunis’ Antony and Irina Tsikurishvili’s Cleopatra squaring off smolderingly downstage, and you see the pyramid behind them, and you instantly think, “Well, they’re gonna end up there, aren’t they?”
Which is to say that choreographer Tsikurishvili and her director-husband Paata more or less set the terms for physical theater hereabouts, and that each Synetic production is in some ways an exercise in attempted self-eclipse. If this latest venture doesn’t quite trump the company’s very best work—Host and Guest and Macbeth remain Synetic’s most gripping excursions into tragic territory, while last year’s heart-opening Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably its overall triumph—the production does advance the state of the troupe’s art on a couple of fronts.
Most obvious is that Paata Tsikurishvili and co-adapter Nathan Weinberg have tackled a rangier story than ever before; as noted earlier, the clashes involved in Antony and Cleopatra involve dynamics both interpersonal and geopolitical, and it’s fun watching them find nonverbal ways to parse the backroom politics in antiquarian Alexandria and ancient Rome. (A series of mimed Senate votes divvying up power after the demise of Julius Caesar is notably successful; a broad sequence involving Philip Fletcher’s demagogic Octavian and a Cleopatra effigy, less so.)
The venue offers new frontiers, too—the Lansburgh, like the Kennedy Center family-theater space where Synetic has occasionally performed, gives the company room to realize its more elaborate visions, and if what’s onstage is any indication, either the house or the company budget is providing technical capabilities heretofore unavailable.
And so: Hallucinatory stage pictures, impossible contortions (courtesy Alex Mills as Cleopatra’s surreal serpentine familiar), rousing fight sequences—actual sparks, struck from sturdy steel swords! It’s just another ordinary evening with Synetic, which is to say, it’s unlike pretty much anything else you’ll see onstage hereabouts. And if that’s not a morsel for a monarch, I don’t know what is.