Synetic Theater’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is no Disney tale

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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Jimmy Shryock)

In Ben and Peter Cunis’ original adaptation of Gabriel Bardot de Villeneuve’s classic tale Beauty and the Beast, the audience finds itself catapulted into a dark world of forest spirits, shape shifters, a hideous horned beast and a vengeful beauty — no, not the beautiful ingénue Belle — but the prince’s spurned first love, Emmeranne.

She morphs into a magnificent crow in a scene plucked straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, putting death and destruction foremost on her agenda and setting up the audience for an indelibly unique interpretation. The scorned woman is an introduced character that serves as the prince’s nemesis and his reality check. In this telling she is hell-bent on revenge and retribution for his fickle-minded affections.

Renata Veberyte Loman plays the haunting witch and narrator, Emmeranne, who taunts and curses the man she has transformed into a terrifying beast.

“Crows don’t talk. And love never, ever hurts,” the enchantress proclaims, determined to demonstrate the opposite. Don’t look for Disney’s saucy little teapot to make an appearance. The Cunis brothers’ imaginative bedtime story is more in keeping with the fiendish fairy tales of the brothers Grimm, or the moralistic fables of Hans Christian Anderson.

Another new character is the top-hatted Fantome, the Beast’s magical servant. Matthew Alan Ward gives a captivating performance in a silent role that draws on his elegant physicality and miming talent.

Vato Tsikurishvili portrays the eponymous Prince turned Beast with both heart and soul. He is monstrous at times; at others, he is as sympathetic a character as Quasimodo. Irina Kavsadze, a delicate beauty who is the perfect foil for the diabolical Emmeranne, the fearsome beast and the castle’s living candelabras that make up the ensemble, plays Belle.

Delivering the perfect alignment of creativity are scenic designer Daniel Pinha’s opulent sets and dual ramps, which provide both comedy and drama, Clint Herring’s original score, which blends new wave and classical sounds, sound designer Thomas Sowers’ eerily futuristic effects and lighting designer Brittany Diliberto’s clever transitions. These elements combine to produce some splendid special effects throughout, including the Prince’s transmogrification and the creation of a projection screen in the shape of an egg through which the audience views a parallel universe depicted in silhouetted woodcuts.

Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography adds kinetic flair to a memorable slow motion fight-and-flight scene and a romantic danse è deux between Belle and the Beast, while costume designer Kendra Rae draws on leather, silk, fur to reflect lost elegance and folklore and offer comedic relief in the costumes of Belle’s ditzy sisters played by Anna Lane and Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly.

Lest you think it is too scary for children (though I wouldn’t recommend it for the very young), as the theatre was letting out, I asked an eight-year-old if the witch had frightened her.

“Not at all,” she declared, to which her father added, “She’s not afraid of anything.”

Utterly spellbinding.

Through January 11th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-800-494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

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