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Synetic's Romeo and Juliet: kettle-of-fish-that-turned-your-heart

Georgian-born Paata Tsikurishvili, artistic director of Synetic Theater, has a different way of looking at the world from most theater people. This was apparent to the Dresser when she saw Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger's arousing 90-minute movement-and-dance interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet on December 2, 2011, in Synetic's Speak No More: The Silent Shakespeare Festival. The festival included a remounting of their award-winning productions Macbeth, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet.

Synetic's retelling of Romeo and Juliet cuts out more than half of Shakespeare's cast and moves from dream sequence to the Capulet Family masked ball crashed by Romeo and his friend Mercutio. Romeo and Juliet meet, fall for each other, pledge their love in the moonlit balcony scene though Juliet is betrothed to Paris. Friar Laurence ties the knot on their secret marriage. Juliet's cousin Tybalt kills Mercutio and Romeo slays Tybalt to avenge his friend's death. Then things get messy when the Friar gives Juliet a sleeping potion that feigns her death. The Friar's letter telling Romeo about the plan to set them free of their familys' feud and Juliet's betrothal goes missing (the letter is stuck to the pendulum of time) and Romeo believe Juliet is dead so he drinks poison. When Juliet awakes, Romeo is dead beside her, so she kills herself with his knife.

The first thought in the Dresser's head about Synetic's Romeo and Juliet was steampunk based on Anastasia Simes' set of clock wheels and pendulum.rj_11-22-11_0900SM.jpg Added to the physical set, the players spin their own clockwork wheels and become cogs in the system of time so that the audience sees only the wheels and not the people. In this day of digital clocks and watches, the analog clockworks of Synetic's set are the appropriate throwback in time for a Shakespearian play. Like steampunk, the Synetic interpretation suggests that people are trapped by man-made inventions and technology.

The Dresser doesn't think of Shakespearean characters as automatons obsessed by clocks, but an electronic search for the word time within the Elizabethan bard's script of Romeo and Juliet yielded 43 hits and the word hour yielded 26. Then toss in phrases like "The curfew-bell hath rung" and "this sight of death is as a bell," the alarm of time, punctuated by original music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, is clearly present in Shakespeare's play about the young lovers who will meet untimely deaths.

Of course, steampunk is not the source of Tsikurishvili's inspiration. Georgians have an exoticism that might come from Byzantine, Persian, and Romani (gypsy) influence. However, the Dresser guesses, based on her brief look at Huntly Carter's ‪The new spirit in the Russian theatre, 1917-1928, that much of Synetic's large world vision and physical theater stems from Russian theatrical influences, including Constantin Stanislavski, that emphasize how the Industrial Revolution changed culture and mankind. But that change was not accomplished in the same way it changed Europe, because Russia missed out on the Renaissance and went from the oppression of medieval serfdom to the oppression of factory life during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Therefore in Synetic's world, the characters and the actors creating these rough-and-ready characters are not as burdened by the societal limitations on behavior as those created by in European theater. Two Synetic characters that stand out in this way are Romeo's friend Mercutio (played by Philip Fletcher) and Juliet's Nurse (Irina Tsikurishvili).

HandOnMercutio.jpgThe Dresser continues to walk around with two scenes in her head, one involving Mercutio rolling up from the floor to stand face-to-face in uncomfortable close proximity to Juliet's hostile cousin Tybalt (Ryan Sellers) and the other when Nurse has a bawdy encounter with the lascivious Mercutio and she ends up shoving him and then riding him like a horse. In both scenes, these characters seem more sprung from a wild circus environment versus a sophisticated society where rules of etiquette and politics prevail. Still, both of these characters participate in social graces. Nurse, especially, as she grooms Juliet to look her best and helps her with politically fraught issues involving Juliet's parents and Paris, the man the Capulets want their daughter to marry. Mercutio knows the consequences of brawling and Montegues treading on Capulet territory, but he wants his best friend Romeo to be happy.HandOnNurse.jpg

Particularly appealing are the interactions between Romeo (Alex Mills) and Juliet (Natalie Berk). They make it clear that this is an unusual attraction between them in that they are both scared in what seems a very innocent way having nothing to do with the feuding of their families. Their hands become birds or butterflies in expressing the airiness of how they feel toward one another.rj_touchSM.jpg

In a stream of action completed without intermission, Synetic's Romeo and Juliet is a great way to see Shakespeare pared down to its essence. The Dresser would go out of her way to see this show again.

In "The Verbs of Desiring," Renée Ashley talks about a "tongue that speaks body," the "kettle-of-fish-that-turned-your-heart," the "body's dead-end," and the "noun of circumstance" illustrated as "where-is-she-now." These phrases catch the essence of Synetic's Romeo and Juliet, which is about what the heart desires--the action of love.


THE VERBS OF DESIRING

How tired the self is of self, its earth twirling in the air and
not-air and I know a woman who ate only bread until
..........................................................................................she died
of bread. Oh the where-is-she-now. Which is not a question.
Which is a noun of circumstance.
.........................................................And disquietude: lovely
word. And hairsbreadth. Stupor mundi. Kettle-of-fish-that-
turned-your-heart.
.................................You are returning from an alphabet ran-
sacked by thirst, by the gamut of implication neatly sung:
a tongue that speaks
.......................................body. A punctuated earth. You who are
resolute of hungry brutes and fooled by the beggar's bowl of
moon, tide of scat, of pellet and flop
..............................................................and the body's dead-
end is an assured apostrophe.
....................................................There are more ways to mean
than you can make note of.
.................................................Look! Something is pretty in the sky
-- it might just be the sky -- though installation's been askant.
Or what it sits upon is opposed to the level eye.
.................................................................................A panoply of
possibilities --
.............................all those bears pirouetting in your penthouse!
Oh if it or they were only.
...............................................Or if you. And, or if I.


Renée Ashley
from The Verbs of Desiring


Copyright © 2010 Renée Ashley


Photo credit: Graeme B. Shaw

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Comments (4)

You are right.The clock. The one symbol of "the moment"....if the note had been deliverd one moment sooner...The SYNETEC knows how to find the very pulse of SHAKESPEARE and illuminate it. Thanks for this review.

Arthur M.:

I have to disagree with you, Grace, and with the reviewer. This is not the "pulse of Shakespeare" nor is it what Karren describes as "a great way to see Shakespeare pared down to its essence" because it's NOT Shakespeare! The essence of Will's "Romeo and Juliet" is not the visual, it's the words, the words, the words... what the characters say to each other and to themselves. Distill the essence... close your eyes or turn out the lights and just listen. With Synetic's and other dance based on Will's story... close your eyes or turn out the lights, and you have nothing except perhaps the music and the rustle of movement. The reviewer no doubt saw a wonderful performance - her opinion is highly regarded. But Shakespeare without the music of his language has no essence, is a phantom, and the rest is silence.

The Dresser:

I hear what my greatly tolerant editor is saying but for me, and I suspect for others as well, I still hear Shakespeare in this imagery created by Synetic. The balcony scene still reverberates with "Romeo, wherefore art thou?" This is what makes the wordless Shakespeare work -- the fact that the Shakespeare play has been spoken so many times that people know the words. But yes, this is Synetic and not Shakespeare!

Theatregoer:

I would have to disagree with Arthur. This is a PLAY. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed--not read. The essence of Romeo and Juliet is not the words--it is the story. If the actors and director are skilled enough, they can communicate the story without words. Theatre means "seeing place." If you want to close your eyes and turn out the lights, don't come to the theatre, buy a book on tape. Are Shakespeare's words poetic and masterful? Of course. But were he to see a wordless Synetic show, I would imagine he would say- you told my story with the same poetry, passion and purpose that my words achieved.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 5, 2011 4:40 PM.

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