What if? What if the creation of man led to a different outcome? Is a do-over possible? These are the provocative questions explored in Synetic Theater’s world premiere production of Genesis Reboot, penned by long-time Synetic actor, assistant director, fight choreographer, and co-adaptor Ben Cunis. This production, which marks the beginning of Synetic’s “New Movements” series, is a riveting exploration of the characters we all know – Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel – using tools unique to Synetic (intense, physical movement) and traditional text-based story-telling.
Though this play is an off-take of the well-known Old Testament book of Genesis, there is a twist – a rather large one, in fact. An Angel creates a modern Tree of Life. Using the power of light, the world’s first man and woman, as well as their off-spring, come to life (again) in The Garden of Eden. She is determined to ensure the story has a less depressing end – that Eve doesn’t eat an apple that leads to her and her husband’s expulsion from the perfect world God made for them and a much more bleak future for all of humankind. With the return of an old nemesis, the Demon, who has his own concept of how the story should go, conflict returns and the story doesn’t go quite as a she intended. Nonetheless, it is a do-over for humankind. The young cast of six charged with bringing these iconic characters to life does a uniformly commendable job. More than capable of handling the dialogue (a rarity in a Synetic show) and the acrobatic non-stopping movement almost simultaneously, they demonstrate that the two toolsets, under the right circumstances, can be melded very well to create something truly unique. Under the direction of playwright Cunis, they all shine. Austin Johnson is a very inquisitive Adam and has a great connection with his wife Eve (the very charming and charismatic Brynn Tucker) who he affectionately calls “my rib.” One can’t help to intently watch Tucker every moment that she is on the stage. Capturing the spirit of Eve, her stage presence is undeniable. Matthew Ward and Jefferson Farber as Cain and Abel bring the unparalleled sibling rivalry to life with great passion and intent. Mary Werntz’s perfect Angel and Joseph Carlson’s menacing and calculating Demon are the glue that holds this very cohesive production together. Portraying two different ends of the good and evil spectrum, both of them are extremely adept at doing everything in their power to achieve an end goal. Powerful forces as individuals, they shine even more as the debate and argue with one another about human nature and human fate. Werntz has a hopeful charm that is quite perfect for such a heavenly character. Johnson’s physical agility is very impressive as well as his ability to handle very sardonic and sarcastic dialogue. Overall, Cunis has given these actors ample room to explore their roles. His play is centered on a fundamental concept (the nature of humankind) while also broad enough to explore a series of questions about whether changing the past is possible, free will, and the like. Such an exploration could turn into an academic and philosophical exercise devoid of heart, but Cunis is able to avoid that trap quite nicely.
Cunis’ modern-flavored dialogue allows the audience to see the characters they know so well with fresh eyes – even if it does get a bit cutesy at times (such as when Adam is naming the animals). It treads the line between comedy and drama quite well- never going too far in one direction or the other. The dialogue is particularly strong when Adam and Eve explore the world of colors and when the Demon and the Angel have their initial meeting. I would like for the dialogue to be a bit sparser in those scenes which are dance-intensive, but, for the most part, it’s not an overwhelming distraction from the overall beautiful stage picture. A Synetic show wouldn’t be a Synetic show without interesting and even jaw-dropping choreography. Irina Tsikurshvili once again does an excellent job melding traditional balletic movement with the modern. The ‘electrical’ movement she creates when each character comes to life as a light hits them is particularly innovative. Her good use of The Tree of Life (part of Daniel Pinha’s very unique and industrial set design) for choreographic purposes is further evidence that this production is not the sum of several parts (cast, set, dance, book, music) but one cohesive whole. Clint Herring’s synthetic, pounding, percussion-heavy original music creates a sense of intensity and anticipation. The sound design, though perhaps too heavy at times, is very well-integrated into the larger production as is Andrew F. Griffin’s lighting design. Kristy Hall’s costume design, likewise, effectively melds the modern and the ancient.
I applaud Founding Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili for presenting this piece. It is a very strong start to the “New Movements” series. I look forward to the other shows in this series which will showcase works by new writers and artists. It would be very easy for Synetic to rest on its laurels with its well-received “Silent Shakespeare” productions. I am very glad to see the company is intent on breaking other artistic boundaries and taking these kinds of risks. Running Time: 90 minutes without an intermission. Genesis Reboot plays through March 3, 2012, at Synetic Theatre – 1800 South Bell Street, in Arlington, VA, in the Crystal City Metro. For tickets, call (800) 494-8497, or purchase them online.