Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
‘Tis a wordless Hamlet, and I am sick at heart. The Stanislavsky Theater Studio’s first production from its new movement-based offshoot, Synetic Theater, this staging of Hamlet eliminates Shakespeare’s lush language and attempts to convey the story of conspiracy, grief, and familial unrest through pantomime and dance. Thank God the troupe didn’t choose Henry V instead: Given that even those with an ear attuned to Shakespeare often find new nuances with each exposure to a particular play—certainly one of the joys of his work—it’s taking a risk shifting the actors’ means of expression. You’ve got to be fairly intimate with Hamlet’s characters and plotlines to leave this performance feeling satisfied; easily identifiable are Hamlet (director Paata Tsikurishvili), Ophelia (choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili), Claudius (Irakli Kavsadze), and Gertrude (Catherine Gasta), but recognizing the others and their places in the story is more difficult. On a spare, dark stage decorated with nothing more than a faded carpet and a torn, blood-colored backdrop, the mostly black-clad actors tango, mug, and mime a fairly quick, sometimes comic version of the tragedy; as in a game of charades, there are only so many ways to suggest a ghost (white hooded cape) or a conflict within oneself (frantically moving about the stage). In particular, Ophelia’s prime scenes—her madness, her drowning, and her funeral—appear especially simplistic when mimed: The invisible plucked flowers hardly suggest insanity, the waves that envelop her (actually several actors rising up around her, waving their arms) and her subsequent slow-motion departure feel amateurish, and the upright casket you can see her walking within distracts from the solemnity at hand. Though each scene has been choreographed by Tsikurishvili with grace, it doesn’t take more than, say, a couple of similar-looking characters or a strange expression on an actor’s face to elicit questions about the story or whether a certain action was meant as comic relief. (If you think so, I dare you to laugh.) With mirrored, ladderlike props that serve as doors, caskets, a guillotine, or simply a way to inconspicuously move someone off the stage, the production is elegant and inventive, and the score, taken from works by Giya Kancheli, is by turns appropriately mournful or inciting. Overall, it’s a bold and imaginative effort, albeit one that tosses aside Hamlet’s power along with its words. —Tricia Olszewski