Synetic Theater mounted a bold production of Don Quixote, adapting a lengthy and complex written masterpiece into a work brief enough to be presented on the stage. The company brought to bear its substantial cache of acting and technical talent to create an enjoyable rendition of another classic piece of literature.
For fans of Synetic, it’s important to note that Don Quixote diverges from the realm of purely physical theatre to incorporate those elements into a spoken play, much like the company did with their recent production of The Master and Margarita. Synetic’s players deliver their lines more than proficiently. However, the writing for this largely farcical piece rarely lent itself to the same subtle storytelling that I’ve found so appealing in their past work. The most powerful parts of the production were sincere and at least not primarily comedic.
Dan Istrate gave an endearing and powerful performance as the knight errant Don Quixote de la Mancha. In Synetic fashion, Istrate’s performance imbued his every movement with the emotion of the scene, but he also developed an exceptional accent that pulled his character together nicely. It’s easy to empathize with Istrate’s Quixote in the course of his various trials, and he uses that empathy to pull you in to the story.
Ryan Sellers complements the lead with a strong portrayal of Quixote’s young, foolish squire, Sancho Panza. Alex Mills ably embodies evil in the world of Don Quixote, taking up not only the role of the primary antagonist, the spirit Freston, but also a bevy of minor villains including a peasant and a prostitute. Natalie Berk sets up an excellent contrast in her mostly wicked Altisidora and Aldonza with Francesca Jandasek’s pure, idealized Dulcinea. The ensemble ably supported the leads and brought personality to their various characters.
Synetic consistently excels is in its technical work and Don Quixote is no exception. Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili designed wonderful costumes: Quixote’s wonderfully ridiculous garb and the evil spirits’ armor in the nightmare sequence were particularly great. Andrew F. Griffin’s lighting worked very well in combination with a wide range of smoke, haze, and other special effects. Don Quixote’s nightmare was beautifully done and one of the more powerful scenes in the production. His widely recognized battle with the windmill, in addition, was a stunning display of Synetic’s combined technical skills and excellently choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili and Ben Cunis. The dazzling technical feats accomplished alone are worth the price of admission. Sound designer Irakli Kavsadze uses Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s original music to great effect at setting the mood of each scene, although it’s less pivotal to the audience’s understanding of the story than in the company’s wordless productions.
Overall, the length of the show felt good, but I do think that the pacing dragged at some points and was too quick in others. Sancho Panza’s second act foray into governorship struck an odd note, and would be something I’d have been happy to have seen cut to expand on scenes from the first act. I would like to have gotten a better sense of Alonzo Quexana’s character to give his transformation into Don Quixote more context, but I don’t think there were any glaring expository omissions.
Faithful to the source material, the first act of Synetic’s Don Quixote is more farcical and the second is more serious. It’s in the second act that much of the emotion of the piece comes into play, and you see Quixote not just as a fool but as an idealist mocked for believing he can fix the world. It’s a testament not only to the strength of the performances but also to the skills of director Paata Tsikurishvili and playwright Roland L. Reed. Although the farcical comedy, sincere philosophy, and stunning technical work didn’t mesh well enough to create the cohesive production I hoped for, they each stand well enough alone to keep an audience entertained. I absolutely enjoyed it and highly recommend this excellent adaptation of the classic story of Don Quixote.
Don Quixote plays through July 3rd at Synetic Theater at Crystal City, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets, call (800) 494-8497 or purchase them at Synetic’s website. The running time was just over 2 hours, including an intermission.