Creating a unique staging of a play produced as often as Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a daunting task, but one that Synetic Theater more than achieves in its reworking of the classic tale of magic and mayhem. “Midsummer,” with a story that focuses on the mischief of fairies, lends itself to fantastical interpretations. Synetic’s new re-staging of its original 2009 production, helmed by director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili, creates an experience that manages to be both darkly enchanting and endearingly funny.
…darkly enchanting and endearingly funny.
We begin in a mysterious forest ruled by fairy king and queen, Oberon (Philip Fletcher) and Titania (Stella Bunch). The pair’s mask-like make-up design helps them appear otherworldly, as does the absence of dialogue—this being one of Synetic’s wordless productions. Storytelling is communicated through movement, design, and music. The fairy royalty appear in balance and in sync, denoted by their rhythmic and stylized dancing. In a departure from the original play, their union seems to bring about the creation of Puck (Ariel Kraje), an elfin mischief-maker.
Puck is ascendent in Synetic’s show, and Ariel Kraje makes a meal of the role. Blue in color, the character’s contrasting red-braided pigtails continually bounce as the chaotic fairy is almost always in motion, whether scurrying around on all fours or grinning maniacally while crab-walking backwards. Casting Puck as the child of the fairies makes his constant pranks on other fairies and humans seem more like adolescent immaturity. Learning that he can manipulate others, he even causes a feud between his parents.
The production leans into the plays madcap humor, especially the scenes showcasing the rude mechanicals, a theatre troupe of laborers, rehearsing a play in the woods. The seriousness with which the men take the undertaking is itself very funny, as is the contrast with the look of the rest of the show. They’re outfitted in ball caps and plaid that wouldn’t be out of place at a tailgate party. The would-be star of their production, Bottom (Vato Tsikurishvili), arrives with a rattail and a lot of confidence in his acting ability as he oversees an outrageous “rehearsal.” Koki Lortkipandize’s (Synetic’s resident composer) onstage piano playing imbues the scenes with the wily energy of silent film shorts.
Vato Tsikurishvili, always an able physical comedian, shines as the self-important Bottom who is later transformed into a donkey by Puck. The choice not to register his transformation with a donkey mask, like many productions do, heightens the comedy here when Titania, enchanted by a vengeful Oberon, falls in love with the animal at first sight. Bottom’s clear incredulity and confusion amplify the silliness of their hilariously awkward courtship.
Added to the criss-crossing plot is a pair of star-crossed lovers. Hermia (Nutsa Tediashvili), engaged to Demetrius (Aaron Kan), loves Lysander (Lev Belopiletski), but Helena (Anna Tsikurishvili) loves Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander flee to the forest, depicted by Anastasia Rurikov’s gorgeous set as hanging and, sometimes glowing, vines. Tediashvili is great as Hermia, whose character endures an emotional roller coaster. She is elated to be with her lover Lysander in defiance of her father, she’s later enraged when Puck enchants him into falling in love with Helena instead.
But all’s well that ends well, as things do in this fantastic production. You may feel like you have but dreamed, but it’s a dream you’ll want to remember.
Running time: Approximately two hours with no intermission.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs through July 24, 2022 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell Street
Arlington, VA 22202. Visit their website here for tickets and more information.
COVID health and safety requirements: All guests 5 and older must provide proof of vaccination OR a negative PCR test along with their I.D. prior to entry. Guests without proof of vaccination or a negative test will not be admitted. Masks are required at all times in its facilities. Concessions will be sold but are not allowed in the auditorium. Audience members can consume in designated areas in the lobby.