Passion and pathos unbridled

Passion and pathos unbridled
Natalie Berk plays Juliet opposite Alex Mills’ Romeo in Synetic’s production of the classic Shakespeare love tale. (Graeme B. Shaw)

When artistic director Paata Tsikurishvili asked in his intro, “How many of you have been to a Synetic production before?” he was surprised half of the audience raised their hands, as were the rest of us converts to this exciting brand of physical theater.

My seat neighbors asked me if the play was silent. I could hardly wait to see their reactions after the show.

A giant, swaying pendulum is the symbol Synetic Theater employs to capture time’s inconvenient passage in its remount of the award-winning production of “Romeo and Juliet.”  Time — represented by a clock’s inner workings, the individual gears heaving forth and trapping the players in a relentless grip — becomes a metaphor for life. It is a powerful and intriguing image, a “time monster” gobbling up the innocent and guilty. It’s repeated throughout with characters spinning in and around the moving parts.

As the last in Synetic’s “Speak No More” trilogy of silent Shakespeare plays, it is a clear departure from the more grisly “Othello” and “Macbeth.”  So it is refreshing when, in place of the clash of swords, the only sound the audience hears echoing off the back seats are kisses. There are kisses of endearment from the Nanny to Juliet, Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet, to her, and Friar Laurence who plants a paternal kiss on Romeo’s pate.

But the kisses and lovemaking between Romeo and Juliet are the most unforgettable and electrifying exchanges.

In a radical interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic tale, Synetic explores the physicality and raw emotionality of Romeo and Juliet’s love. At their first meeting they mirror each other’s emotions, swaying together as they fluidly synch their movements.

With flashing spotlights alternating from all sides of the stage, we witness the lovers arriving in their bedchamber after their wedding vows. The scene progresses to a single-beamed and scrim-silhouetted vignette of a languorous and erotic danse d’amour. Tsikurishvili opts to play up the lovers’ passions, drawing the audience in with their sensuality and playfulness. Yet  the insinuating gears — twisting and turning, screeching and clacking — marking time for the fated lovers are ever present.

When Ryan Sellers swaggers in as the villainous and arrogant Tybalt, he transforms the the second act’s masked ball scene from merriment and celebration to impending danger. We see tensions between the families arise as Lord Capulet steps in to put an end to his fight with Romeo.

The street scene in which the Nurse (played by the enchantingly feisty Irina Tsikurishvili) goes to deliver a message to Romeo and meets up with Mercutio also is fraught with raw sexuality. Phillip Fletcher (Mercutio) comes off as a delicious scoundrel in a lengthy battle between the sexes.  But she gives as good as she gets and his abuse is trumped in a complex fight scene between the two. The Nurse comes out on top with a wink and a nod to women’s power.

The gorgeous Fredericksburg actor Alex Mills brings a sexy vitality to the role of Romeo in perfect counterbalance to the exquisite Natalie Berk as Juliet, who embodies the quintessence of innocence with delicate, lithesome grace.  To support the dancers with powerful background music, sound designer Irakli Kavsadze interweaves mesmerizing electronica and waltzes with Gregorian chants to transition scenes from violence to passion.

If you’ve never seen Synetic Theater’s productions, and apparently there are a few who haven’t, don’t miss this one.


“Romeo and Juliet” runs through Friday at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington in Crystal City. For tickets and information, call 1-800-494-8497 or visit