With its new production of Beauty and the Beast, Synetic Theater ventures much more deeply into the changeable world of shadow play. Featuring marvelous shadow puppet storytelling techniques, this Beauty and the Beast reverberates with the ominous darkness of the deep forest to which the “Beast” has been exiled and “Beauty” sent.” Beauty and the Beast features spoken narration as well, which renders the production truly accessible for the whole family.
Intricately directed by Synetic protégée theater artist Ben Cunis and robustly choreographed by the renowned Synetic Co-Founder and Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili, this production delves into the subliminal realms of longing and despair, lightened by a single rose. The Beast, played with intense empathy and strength by veteran Synetic artist Vato Tsikurishvili, wanes in his hidden castle, cast there by the woman scorned and persecuted in the story’s lesser known backstory–which was magically enacted through life-size shadow puppetry. To summarize, as a younger, carefree human prince, the Beast had wandered about in the forest, meeting and falling in love with a beautiful but poor forest girl, Emmeranne. They shared a brief but idyllic moment of forbidden cross-class romance before the Prince’s rigid, royal father found out and, with only feint protests by the Prince, the king has the poor bewitching girl burned at the stake like a witch. Bad move, King.
…truly accessible for the whole family.
The executed young woman transmogrifies into a revenging bird-spirit witch who fills the entire tale with brooding danger. Renata Veberyte Loman, who also serves as a friendlier Narrator, plays Witch Emmerane with fluid, sinister resolve, hovering over the action like smoke. Witch Emmerane banishes the Beast to the dark castle, accompanied only by the ghostly attendant Fantome, marvelously played by Matthew Alan Ward with a silent constancy that gives the production its truest dark edge. The Beast’s lone remaining human element, his heart, meanwhile has been transmuted into a single, glowing red rose.
Belle, the Beauty, played with pristine innocence and grace by Irina Kavsadze, enters the picture after her father, a merchant felled by his lost seafaring vessels, plucks the rose for his beloved Belle, and the plot thickens. To assuage the Beast, Belle is exiled to his castle, and she and the Beast begin gradually to get to know and trust and love each other. Indeed, the production’s most charming scene comes late in the show when Belle and Beast frolic sweetly like young children on the sliding slopes of the set’s plateau-like pedestals. It is a delightful, beautifully choreographed scene in which Tsikurishvilli’s athletic grace fills the stage with sweet laughter and Kavsadze’s balletic elegance enchants. Their love affair launched, the story unwinds forward to its storybook conclusion.
Figuring significantly into the plot’s twists and turns are Belle’s father, Jean Paul, played with authentic paternal conviction by Hector Reynoso, and her two ditsy, self-serving sisters, Claudette and Marie, played with equal and often comic conviction by Anna Lane and Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly, respectively. Joseph Carlson plays the handsome, most-eligible, most-unscrupulous bachelor Avenant with smarmy weaselness and a devilish twirl of bright red hair.
The production, at 100 minutes, frequently embraces a languid pace that decidedly differentiates it from the saccharine tenor of the Disney movie and underscores the peril implicit in the fate of the Beast. This slow unwinding of plot points, however, may challenge the more action-hungry of audience members. The production soars, however, in an exquisitely choreographed and executed slow-motion fight scene between the Beast and gold-hungry pretty-boy Avenant and his two strapping lad enforcers. The agility, precision, and athleticism of Synetic’s principals and the ensemble are on full display in the flawless scene. Indeed, the production’s ensemble gave the evening a number of whimsical movement techniques, including an inventive, ascending staircase lined with candlesticks. Completing the able ensemble are Katrina Clark, Zana Gankhuyag, Ryan Alan Jones, and Chanel Smith.
Set Designer Daniel Pinha has transformed Synetic’s lofting space into an enchanted, blue-vine- strewn, ethereal forest—a veritable installation that becomes even more enchanting at play’s end. Costume Designer Kendra Rai has draped the performers in quintessentially Synetic finery, with layers of wafty, mystical fabric and dynamic, enigmatic make-up. The Beast’s costume was particularly theatrical and effective. Sound Design by Thomas Sowers provided crisp theatrical emphasis and Lighting Design by Brittany Diliberto evoked the dim, blue danger of the Beast’s world and the remote regions of the story. The haunting music throughout was by Composers Clint Herring, Andrew Gerlicher, and Konstantine Lortkipandze, with additional music by Gyia Kaneheli and additional music arrangements by Paata Tsikurishili and Irakli Kavsadze. Props, particularly the glowing red rose, by Kasey Hendricks added nuance to the production.
The loudest applause, however, goes to the design, choreography, and execution of the shadow play. With delicate shadow puppet design by Zana Gankhuyag, the shadow play is a blend of 2-dimensional silhouette forms, impeccable human movement (special applause to the running-through-the-forests Emmeranne and Belle and the ticking clock), and flashing, fluttering lights, the shadow dimension indeed expands Synetic’s magical visual storytelling vocabulary.
Running Time: 100 minutes without intermission.
Beauty and the Beast runs through January 11, 2015, at Synetic Theater, 1800 S Bell St, Arlington, VA 22202.
Tickets may be purchased by calling 866-811-4111 or by clicking here.