By Jordan wright
There is only one way to take in Synetic Theater’s Silent Shakespeare productions, and that is to give yourself over — heart, mind and soul — to the fantasy unfolding upon the stage.
Like a steamy love affair, Synetic’s style is a paean to passion with no holds barred. It’s total surrender without a net. There is neither a map nor compass, nor sheet music nor gyroscope, to guide you — even for “The Tempest,” a tale you thought you knew. But in the time it takes one thunderous lightning bolt to reach earth, Synetic has entered your brain space and there is no turning back.
The play opens on a breathtaking set designed by Anastasia Rurikov Simes. Synetic’s reinvention of the bard’s classic takes place largely in 6-inch deep water. As artistic director Paata Tsikurishvili noted on opening night, “This set is extremely dangerous and extremely difficult to perform on.” And given Synetic’s alternate universe, overflowing with technological wizardry, it is a perilous experiment.
Still, it’s not without precedent. In 2010, Synetic employed this same technique in its production of “King Arthur,” and people have been raving about it ever since.
We enter this watery world accompanied by Prospero (Philip Fletcher), who appears after cutting an elegant swath through the mist — the backdrop lit by the swirling amorphous shapes of a ferocious storm and draped with the torn sails of a ship run aground.
Ocean waves crash cacophonously against the island’s cliffs, and eerie electronic music swells in the distance. A piano sits off to the side, its keyboard a waterfall under which Caliban (Vato Tsikurishvili) retreats. A light box held by Prospero, to reference his precious books, pulses in shades of red and pink.
Soon the two meet and lock in a ferocious battle as sprays of water spew across the stage and onto the first three rows — known as the “splash zone.” No worries, though. Courtesy ponchos are graciously provided.
Dan Istrate, one of the leading luminaries of Russian theater, guest stars in his role as the pop-locking Ariel, clad in an anime-inspired costume reminiscent of the Silver Surfer, designed by, yes, Simes again. Irakli Kavsadze is outstanding as Stephano, the drunken captain, as is the sensuous, sylph-like Irinka Kavsadze as Miranda. And Tsikurishvili shines as the brutish Caliban.
An overall sense of magic and mysticism pervades every riveting aspect of this production. Dizzying acrobatics, flips, somersaults and ballet combine with water, sound and light to give the audience an electrifying rendition of Shakespeare without words. It is an unparalleled, near-psychedelic experience, dotted with “Gangnam Style,” Latin salsa and waltz, including a synchronized nod to Busby Berkeley.
“The Tempest” runs through March 24 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. For tickets and information, call 1-800-494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.