We know the story—a hopelessly dysfunctional blended family, a bright young woman who pairs endless chores with undefeatable optimism, a prince, a ball, a transformation, and a search. But Synetic Theater takes us on a new journey in their wordless production of “Cinderella,” adapted and directed by Maria Simpkins, who also stars as the title character.
… a captivating, uplifting production that will delight both children and adults and fill your heart with much-needed light during this darkest month of the year.
Synetic Theater is known for their movement-based productions that eliminate the spoken word in order to elevate a play’s visual aesthetic. “Cinderella” pairs dance and comedic gesture with a mix of Afro-Cuban instrumental melodies, ranging from lively to haunting in order to bring us a spirited, fresh look at a tale we know so well. It’s not only the music and dancing that change up this Cinderella story. We’re treated to a hilariously egotistical wicked stepfather, played with snooty aplomb by Robert Bowen Smith. In addition, we’re taken on a delightful, forest romp through classist mores that allows Cinderella and her Prince (Pablo Guillen) to develop an organic, less idealistic relationship prior to the ball. Their genuine connection makes their final happy ending truly rewarding.
While some wordless productions might struggle with holding younger viewers’ interest for an entire performance, I believe that even the smallest audience members will be completely enthralled with Synetic Theater’s “‘Cinderella” from start to finish. Visual comedy is threaded throughout the show, prompting huge laughs from the audience and continually boosting attention spans to keep them from lagging.
The comedic elements are interspersed with lively salsa dance numbers (plus one foxtrot, if I’m not mistaken!) The dancing is wisely spaced throughout the show so that each number remains exciting. I loved the way that choreographer Janine Baumgardner would tease us with tiny dance steps by individual actors before finally allowing them to break into a full couples’ routine. It built up the anticipation and kept the show engaging.
Irene Hamilton as the Valet is an absolute treat. Her physical comedy is top-notch, whether she’s playing a hunting dog, scrawling out visual royal announcements, or wrestling with a glass slipper and a determined stepsister (played by the delightfully absurd Covenant Babatunde).
Pablo Guillen as the Prince lives up to the “charming” element of his royal name. He exudes a sweet humility in his willingness to bridge social divides. Maria Simpkins as Cinderella is a joy to watch. Her facial expressions are so playful, yet she performs the pathos equally well. The most powerful moment of the production for me was when Simpkins breaks down crying after her stepfamily prevents her from attending the ball. Her sobs are the only vocalizations in the entire performance and it highlights her broken hearted despair.
All is not lost, however, for her Fairy Godmother, played by Karina Hilleard, enters the scene in an enchanting visual sequence as fireflies dot and swarm across a darkened stage. The magical charm continues with swaths of glittery fabric floating in mid-air as Cinderella’s dress is transformed. Kudos to choreographer Baumgardner, Scenic Designer Aleksandr Shiriaev, and Lighting Designer Ian Claar for creating such a wondrous moment.
The Fairy Godmother sequence ends with a warm hug between Simpkins and Hilleard, and I have to say, I got choked up. Women supporting women is such a beautiful phenomenon, far too rarely depicted in the arts. Most Cinderella productions cast the Fairy Godmother as stand-offish, existing on a far higher social plane than Cinderella. So this moment of warmth and equality between the two women was such an encouraging symbol of the strength and love that women can share with each other in a united sisterhood. It also served as a nice bookend to the Seamstress’s previous gift of a scarf to the neglected Cinderella (the Seamstress also being played by Hilleard).
The music by Resident Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze was as much a character in the play as any of the actors and always perfectly fit the mood. From bombastic salsa dance tunes, to soft, melancholy Spanish guitar solos, to ethereal piano melodies, the music guided us through the emotional narrative of the story.
I highly recommend Synetic Theater’s wordless adaptation of “Cinderella” as a captivating, uplifting production that will delight both children and adults and fill your heart with much-needed light during this darkest month of the year.
Running Time: One hour with no intermission.
“Cinderella” at Synetic Theater runs through Dec. 26, 2021 at Crystal City Shops, 1800 S Bell St, Arlington, VA 22202. For more information, click here. For specific theater information on Covid Safety Protocols for In-Person Performances, click here.