By Jordan Wright (Photo/Koko Lanham)
If you’re planning on seeing “Twelfth Night,” the 10th production in Synetic Theater’s Silent Shakespeare series, you would do well to flip through a copy of the CliffsNotes ahead of time.
Even while the plot is predictable, this production does not recall any rendition of Shakespeare’s work you have ever seen. Amazingly reinterpreting the 1920s movie era, director Paata Tsikurishvili has chosen a cinematic theme as his unconventional backdrop for pantomime, slapstick, killer dance sequences and an eclectic music score.
Picture a movie set replete with klieg lights, pulleys, ladders, a giant scrim and camera dolly, as well as vintage Moviola editing equipment. On stage left, there’s an upright piano concealing a secret bar, and a Scott Joplin tune plays on a Victrola. It’s the Roaring ’20s when the Charleston was king, Chaplin ruled the silver screen and the Lindy Hop lured partiers brimming with bathtub gin onto dance floors across America.
The first scene opens with two white-faced clowns in their satins arguing in mime over the “Twelfth Night” script. The lead clown, a sort of John Huston/Orson Welles mash-up, is the director of this film-within-a-play, a fan of cutting the action with his clapperboard. Together with his comic cohort, they monitor the performers while seeming to capture the action on film.
And what action it is. Jazz Age flappers cavort with drunken Casanovas in zoot suits and — as with all of Shakespeare’s best follies —character intentions get pretty well muddled up.
Subtle references translate into major devices. Nowhere is this more evident than in a complex number in which the dancers become entrapped in an unspooling reel of film.
If there is one misstep, it’s the use of a large scrim to separate the scenes. It’s a clever concept, but when it’s used to show occasional quotes from the play — projected in the style of the silent film era as title cards — the words often become obstructed by the actors and props.
In any case, assistant director and music director Irakli Kavsadze has selected astonishingly varied pieces to accompany the dancers. I recognized “Santa Lucia,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Yes, Sir! That’s My Baby!” and even the “Mexican Hat Dance” tossed in among jazz-era tunes, classical music, opera and an original score by award-winning composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze.
Costume designer Kendra Rai punctuates the theme using a black, white and silver palette to convey the dazzling period.
Set designer Phil Charlwood and lighting designer Colin K. Bills have meticulously channeled the era’s zeitgeist by placing Viola (Irina Tsikurishvili), Orsino (Philip Fletcher), Malvolio (Irakli Kavsadze), Olivia (Kathy Gordon), Feste (Ben Cunis), Sebastian (Alex Mills), Sir Toby Belch (Hector Reynoso), Fabian (Vato Tsikurishvili), Maria (Irina Kavsadze) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Dallas Tolentino) into this stylishly romantic farce. The cast is beyond marvelous — balanced and utterly in sync. While you’ll see no scene-stealers here, Fletcher’s Orsino is perhaps the most adorably absurd of the Lotharios.
“Twelfth Night” runs through February 16 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. For tickets and information, call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.