Do you know D.C.?
Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.
Dark and lyrical, haunted and haunting, sobering and at times thoroughly sublime, Synetic Theater’s remount of its cautionary tale Host and Guest tells again the story of two hunters from warring cultures, two strong-minded men who strike up a friendship over the simplest of rituals, two independent thinkers who briefly transcend a complicated history of hatred—before that history, and the mob inflamed by it, catches up to them and consumes them. Set in an earlier time, in the mists of the Caucasus mountains, in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, Host and Guest is drawn from an epic poem that’s said to encapsulate much about that nation’s strife-shrouded history. Adapted by Roland Reed and staged, here as before, in the vividly expressionist amalgam of music and theater and movement that is Synetic’s hallmark, the story can’t help but take on added urgency in light of recent headlines; it was the August Russian invasion of Georgia, and the pangs and passions of Synetic’s Georgian-born artistic leadership, that sparked this revival, after all. But historical moment or no, it’s the company’s endlessly inventive visual style and the exquisitely disciplined physicality of its core ensemble that continues, even after a decade of exposure to the wonders they produce, to astonish: stage combat that seems both alarmingly real and impossibly balletic; leaps and falls that somehow appear to occur in slow motion; forests conjured by little more than dancers with tall staves; graveyards suggested by bodies hunched behind what had been shields just moments before; urgently compressed sequences that say more, without words, than pages of dialogue could. These are the tools, expertly wielded, of Synetic’s art. And in the downright heroic performances of Dan Istrate and Ben Cunis, central characters Zviadauri (a Christian who strays beyond his home turf) and Joqola (the Muslim “host” of the title) become substantially more than the totems they might be. Yes, they’re stand-ins, and stirring ones, for everyone who’s ever asked why we need to do what’s always been done. But they’re also human figures—as is Irina Tsikurishvili as Joqola’s wife, Aghaza, trapped and fearful and brave and tragic, in a situation where tragedy is everywhere, bravery flowers like a flame in the darkness, and the worst instincts of humankind threatens to extinguish its last flicker.