By Jordan Wright
Here’s the grabber up front: Synetic Theater’s “A Trip to the Moon” is one of the most exciting, imaginative and flawless pieces of theater. I’ve seen in light years. If I used a rating system, I would give it five glowing stars.
In this wonder-filled production, Japanese director/writer/illustrator and Georgetown professor Natsu Onoda Powers brings us a lively triptych of vignettes. In the first, she sources her inspiration from George Melies’ 1902 silent sci-fi film, “Le Voyage Dans La Lune,” which also is referenced in Martin Scorsese’s recent Oscar-winning film, “Hugo.”
A stage-wide, interactive paper scrim delivers illustrations, schematics and film projections dovetailing with the action on the stage. Performers seamlessly slide in and out of invisible openings in the paper while the show’s producers heighten the experience by integrating an alternate stage above the main platform. By incorporating that usually empty third into the design, the cast delivers their performances from above and below.
In one hyperkinetic scene, the astronauts — working with a collection of cutout shapes — cleverly reconfigure the pieces to depict boats, airplanes and a hot air balloon to create a design for their spacecraft.
The action becomes more and more frenetic, including prancing chorus girls and whirling mad scientists. It’s a hilarious moment when the man in the moon walks on stage — wrapped in shiny black plastic with a white circle of paper surrounding his face — and is slathered with moon whip. With Synetic there always is that connection to the Theatre of the Absurd.
The second in this series of space travels is “The Bamboo Cutter,” an ancient Japanese tale of a woodsman (played by Colin Analco) who finds a child in a glowing length of bamboo. He takes her home to his wife, and she becomes a beautiful princess with magical powers.
Katrina Clark deftly plays the gossamer moon maiden. To please her father, she must marry, but first, she orders suitors to pass a rigorous test — find a silver branch with gold pearls from a treacherous island, a necklace from a dragon and a golden egg. The young men attempt to woo her with Kendo fighting, song, juggling, pantomime and modern-day sign spinning. There is even a Chippendales-style dancer and a hip-shaking Hula-Hooper bent on winning her affections.
The costumes by designer Kendra Rai are fabulous and phantasmagoric — heavily beaded and trimmed robes, gowns and fanciful headpieces. The sets, designed by Giorgos Tsappas, seem lifted from classical 17th-century Japanese paintings.
The final story is set in Moscow in the 1950s. It is the story of Laika, the first dog to travel to the moon, and is told from the dog’s perspective. The role is endearingly and unforgettably performed by Karen O’Connell, who is costumed in furry muscular leggings. It is a tale of a little stray who finds her dog family on the mean streets but is then captured and taken to a dismal pound — only to be saved by rocketeers.
If you’re a dog owner or have ever known a dog, you will howl with pleasure, especially in the indelibly romantic dream sequence of a pas de deux between Laika’s adoptive mother (Francesca Jandasek) and the Moon King (Ben Arden).
The play runs through January 6 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington (Crystal City). For tickets and information, call 1-800-494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.