You can take the Bible’s Genesis story any number of ways, even if you don’t take it religiously. Humans contaminated by knowledge? Metaphorically speaking, that could easily apply to a range of shifts in human experience, from the evolution of consciousness to society’s growth from a nomadic lifestyle to an agrarian one or to simply growing up.
As drama, though, the story has its drawbacks: Basically, that it’s almost universally known and keeps things pretty simple—at least, as originally written.
And therein lies the problem with Synetic Theater’s new production, Genesis Reboot. The play promises a spinoff of that ancient creation myth, but it scarcely veers from the original narrative, following a slow-moving storyline that leaves the audience little option but to wait for a predictable climax—which never quite delivers. While the play’s overall physicality and dance numbers, hallmarks of Synetic productions, give it an attractive fullness, neither they nor the dialogue are strong enough to support an ultimately weak story.
Let me be clear, though: Genesis Reboot is my very first Synetic Theater experience. So I’m not familiar with what enthusiastic local critics have dubbed the movement-based company’s “expressive stagecraft” or “visually inventive work.” But unless those critics are simply so impressed by any kind of onstage movement they’ve overestimated the company’s storytelling abilities, I have to assume Genesis Reboot represents a departure from Synetic’s usual originality and sophistication. The play revolves around an angel who has decided to give humanity a second chance—a do-over, if you will, to get it right this time and not screw up with that snake and apple business. But her plans are foiled by a demon, and the whole thing ends wretchedly.
Adam and Eve spend more than half the play innocently bouncing around the garden and delighting in one another, which leaves the audience little option but to wait, and wait, for Eve to take that fatal bite. When she finally does the deed near the end of the play, the lights flash and the score roars, but the consequences of her actions aren’t immediately clear. It’s a big buildup for a disappointingly small payoff.
Eve is played by the winsome Brynn Tucker, whose energy and charisma pervade every scene she’s in, and help animate the play overall. Unfortunately, she’s given very little to work with, as this Eve is mostly limited to puppylike curiosity and admiration of Adam.
Cain and Abel make a couple of cameos—fighting, natch, in a futuristic, prison-like setting—but how they relate to the garden drama (besides being the inhabitants’ offspring) is never fully explained.
In fact, the script’s only substantive dramatic tension comes from the interactions between the angel and the demon, who alternately flirt and fight for control over the humans’ fates. The tree of knowledge, an inventive metal sculpture in the middle of the stage sprouting pipes, rods, and platforms, serves as the site of their various scuffles, sardonic exchanges, and machinations. Joseph Carlson, the demon, brings a springy physicality to the role, but neither character is particularly compelling or convincing.
In some ways, the production’s most intriguing element are the orc-like figures who, faces obscured, roam and roll around the stage and provide movement interludes. They’re played by the six cast members (which is only apparent at the end) and succeed in creating a climate of mildly menacing chaos that acts as a contrast to the idyllic garden we’re asked to imagine.
Genesis Reboot is the first in Synetic’s “New Movements” series, which introduces a variety of artistic voices to the company besides those of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, its founders. In this case, the play is directed by Ben Cunis, who co-wrote it with his brother, Peter.
This isn’t Ben Cunis’s first time writing and directing a piece; he’s been with the company for five years and has filled a variety of roles, including actor, director, writer, and choreographer. Unfortunately, this production comes across as a beginner’s first stab at a full-length play.
The play runs at Synetic Theater at Crystal City and runs to March 3. Shows are Wednesday through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.. $45-$55. Photo by Johnny Shryock