Everyone with a teen or pre-teen, everyone with a concern for adolescence and the struggles of coming of age, everyone with a love of theatre and its relationship to joy and community should go to see The Jungle Book, the new production by the Synetic Teen Ensemble.
Directed by Joseph Carlson, and told by his ensemble of thirteen teens, this Jungle Book has clarity and purpose, plus all the vitality of any Synetic show. Using spare but effective dialogue, the story unfolds through a series of nine energetic scenes, beginning with contemporary student life as it is in a big public high school before then launching through dream into Rudyard Kipling’s classic.
Mowgli, an outsider bullied in high school, seeks companionship in the jungle. Once there, though initially robbed by a Bandarlog (a monkey), Mowgli is then attacked by the Wolf Pack before being offered a chance to join the wolves. The young exile from the world of Man must first pass two challenges. Mowgli succeeds and begins to learn the laws of the jungle. Temptation, however, lurks and soon gets the best of Mowgli, and this tale of redemption and forgiveness and ultimately ethical maturity takes flight.
The ensemble work in this production is exquisite, not only with the synchronized movements but with the performers’ ability to play off of one another. I’m certain that audience members each will have their favorite characters, but what really stands out is the collective identities inhabiting this jungle world.
Certain moments really shine, however.
During the initiation, Mowgli, played with simple honesty by Alaina Quirk, claims to be faster than the Wolf Pack, played fiercely by Sarah Kent, Sophie Nicholakos, and Jade Uyeda-Trackman. A race ensues, during which the audience is drawn into the back and forth competition. Personally, I was surprised no one stood up and shouted: “Go Mowgli!” as I was definitely tempted to do.
Mowgli is then charged with stealing something from Shere Khan the tiger, played by Henry Kramer with just the right amount of kingly laziness. When Mowgli is caught, Bahgeera the panther, played with grace by Alicia Hartz, intervenes. In one of the more nuanced scenes in the production, Hartz’s Bahgeera slyly convinces Shere Khan not to make a meal of Mowgli but to sell his captive to her.
The fight scene between Shere Khan and the Pack leader, Akela, played with strength by Nicholas Cadby-Spicer, was expertly choreographed. The two warriors held the audience in suspense throughout.
Fighting was not, however, the only thing on the menu. A party dance with the Bandarlogs (played delightfully by Delaney Christian, Angelika Goodman, and Garrett Rinker) filled the stage, after which we clearly understood why Mowgli gave into temptation. What a joyous good time!
Everyone… should go to see ‘The Jungle Book’
Finally, there’s the comic standout of the evening, Baloo the bear, played with honey-eating good spirits by Nicole Gianuca. I can’t say that I’d ever want to be instructed on the laws of the jungle by this bear, but the scene in which he teaches Mowgli the rules of the forest was a delight.
Rounding out the cast are Carly Greenfield as the sagacious Rahn the bird and Emily Berry as Raksha the mother wolf whose strong presence gives the Wolf Pack a calming authority.
Carlson’s design team has created a fabulous set for the players to dance on, roll around on, leap from, and scatter in all directions on. Set designer Joshua Rosenblum has reconceived a set originally designed by Daniel Pinha. Corey Searles Dunn’s costumes are a fascinated panache of details, and Tori Bertocci’s choreography is full of variety, employing the talents and skills of her performers to the fullest.
So if you want to see Kipling’s Jungle Book performed in a vigorous, unique way, take yourself or better yet take your family down to Synetic today or tomorrow. It will be worth every minute.
Running Time: 65 minutes without intermission.
The Jungle Book runs through November 18 at Synetic, 800 South Bell Street in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call 1-800-494-8497 or click here.