Shakespeare without the words. There are two opportunities to experience this during the opening stages of the Shakespeare in Washington festival this month. One is the production of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” by the Kirov Ballet at the Kennedy Center this weekend. The other is the longer-running production of “Macbeth” by the Synetic Theatre Company at the Spectrum in Rosslyn.
Maybe it’s because I make my living as a word-smith. Maybe it’s because the development of language has been key to the evolution of the species out of the muck. Maybe it’s because the invention of moveable type has been the precondition for the liberation of mankind from tyranny. Maybe it’s because Shakespeare, in particular, has not only demonstrated but has conveyed to millions the enormous power of words through his plays and poetry.
Maybe that’s why the idea of Shakespeare without his words can be puzzling. It seems kind of like turning off the loudspeakers during Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, or asking Michael Jordan to play without a ball.
But perhaps it’s a great tribute to Shakespeare, to the fact that his works are so well known by almost everyone, that word-less, alternative artistic forms of presenting his plays can further enhance and deepen the public appreciation of him.
This is how I take, in particular, the highly creative and entertaining Synetic Theatre production.
To make up for the lack of a single word spoken in the non-stop 1 hour, 40 minute show, there is an amazing amount of energy and expression. There is perhaps no one single term to describe what they do, but it is centered around motion. Part ballet, part modern dance, part mime, part animated facial expressions, symbolic gestures, drama, humor and, of course, overall visual storytelling. As they call it, “The Art of Silence.” The cast works with a single, dark set, utilizing three trap doors with a tiny crawl space beneath that the audience, of course, does not see. There’s no intermission, and lots of smoke and loud, haunting piped-in mood music.
To sum it up, I loved it. It’s pretty clear when Lady Macbeth is pronouncing, “Out, out damn spot!,” and little doubt what’s going on at any point (I do recommend brushing up on the story before showing up. There is a synopsis in the program).
But you don’t have to concentrate on the story line if you don’t want to. I found it better to just sit back and let it pull me in. It’s a total sensual experience, a sheer delight, even if at times its surreal, slow-motion segments reminded me of one of those flashbacks from my misspent youth.
It starts off in smashing fashion with the witches’ scene. That one has always permitted directors great opportunity for creativity, and this is no exception. Even for spoken productions of “Macbeth,” this opening with the witches would be grand.
Philip Fletcher, Meghan Grady and Katherine E. Hill are incredible in these opening roles, followed by a cast of talented and athletic actors. Irakli Kavasadze, a founding actor with the Synetic Theatre with an M.F.A. from the Georgean State Institute of Theatre and Film, and Irini Tsikurishvili, from Tbilisi Chabukiani Ballet School, are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Ms. Tsikurishvili also choreographed the production.
Other roles are performed by Ben Curtis, Armand Sindoni, Dan Istrate, Andrew Zox, Niki Jacobsen, Salma Qarnain, Courtney Paurose, Michael Way, Irina Kavsadze and Kyle Fitzpatrick. 15-year-old Miles Butler from Falls Church has an important role as Macduff’s son. Paata Tsikurishvili is the director. She and Nathan Weinberger did the adaption. Konstantine Lortkipanidze is the composer of the original music.
Most of the cast and crew have been working together in the Synetic Theatre on this art form for years. As the program states, “Syn” means the coming together of distinct elements to form a whole, and “Kinetic” is pertaining to, or imparting, motion, active and dynamic. They have also performed a production of “Hamlet” that won three Helen Hayes Awards in 2002 and will be brought back in June at the Kennedy Center as part of the “Shakespeare in Washington” series.
“Macbeth” runs through Feb. 25 with shows Thursdays through Sundays. For more information and tickets, www.synetictheater.org. Tickets for the performances tonight, this Sunday afternoon and next Thursday are $10.