For those mourning the loss of Game of Thrones, look no further than Synetic Theater’s debut production of “Richard III,” which transforms Shakespeare’s bloody history tale into a cyborg fantasy. The thrilling show, part of the company’s Wordless productions series, is a reminder of what an imaginative powerhouse Synetic is.
Audience members do not need to be familiar with the original play to enjoy this production, though reviewing the synopsis provided with the program is helpful. The story opens in a gripping standoff between warring factions, complete with laser guns. The King, on the losing side of a civil war, is killed by his rivals, Edward (Philip Fletcher) and his younger brother Richard (Alex Mills). Edward takes the crown, but Richard is badly wounded by a rival player, requiring his body to be rebuilt by two cyborg minions (Ana Tsikurishvili, Scean Aaron).
While most of Synetic’s wordless series (this is the 14th) include no dialogue, centering dance and movement in the storytelling, Richard does speak, often from video recorded and broadcast on several screens onstage. It’s an effective choice; it centers him in the drama, while also showing how he is trapped inside his new body. Angry and bitter, he vows to take the crown himself. “If I cannot prove a lover, I must prove a villain,” he promises, in an early monologue.
A superb design team gives the production its cool, dystopian aesthetic. The metallic piping of Tennessee Dixon’s set is as twisted as Richard’s intentions; industrial piping that make up the guts of the set glow red to signal danger. The cast is outfitted in black (costumes courtesy of Erik Teague), with sleek metallic elements that glow in Brian S. Allard’s vibrant lighting.
In addition to broadcasting Richard’s monologues, Dixon’s multi-screen graphic design also adds a video game sensibility to Richard’s devious plans, as he acquires and eliminates targets.
His first target, for marriage and not for murder, is Lady Anne (a sensitive Maryam Najafzada), the widow of the executed king. Alex Mills gives a stunning performance as Richard, trapped in an alien body, complete with a robotic arm. His otherness is only heightened as he woos Anne, crawling into the scene animal-like as she sits on her husband’s coffin.
…a reminder of what an imaginative powerhouse Synetic is.
Mills emphasizes the tragedy of Richard’s body through his relationship to Anne, to whom he shows vulnerability. A later scene finds the couple sharing an affectionate moment, ended by a misfire of Richard’s arm that hurts his new wife. Mills’ performance creates an interesting ambiguity that often overlaps physical malfunction with an emotional breakdown, as when he seems to either shiver with rage or experience a circuit misfire. It’s a nuanced physicality that calls into question whether it’s the man or the machine that makes his murderous choices.
And murder he does, first his older brother, Clarence (Thomas Beheler), by framing him for an attempt on Edward’s life, and eventually Edward himself. Edward’s death is mourned by his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Irina Tsikurishvili), expressed as a haunting ballet of grief in which Edward’s body gradually slips away from her (Tsikurishvili is also the choreographer).
The perfectly paced show includes dance sequences and moments of unexpected levity, including a humorous scene that finds Queen Elizabeth’s newly crowned son roughhousing with his brother (Tim Proudkii, Aaron Kan). Her family provides an emotional center to the story, and she, along with her daughter, Princess Elizabeth (Nutsa Tediashvili), form a female stronghold that ultimately defies Richard’s bloody path to the throne.
Richard’s run-up to war, and his ultimate downfall, are some of the most electrifying scenes of the show, as Richard is undone, and the crown finds itself in another’s hands. This game of thrones may not have dragons, but it’s still incredible fun.
Running Time: 105 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: The production uses fog, haze, electronic cigar vapor and strobe lights.
“Richard III” runs through June 16 at Synetic Theater. For tickets or more information, click here.