Theater: Shakespeare and technology collide in ‘Richard iii’

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Alex Mills as Richard in Synetic Theater’s modern, tech-filled production of “Richard iii.” (Photo Credit: Brittany Diliberto.)
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By Jordan Wright

Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili calls this “Richard iii” the most challenging production ever.

That may well be an understatement, because since the Synetic Theater’s inception nearly 20 years ago, it has consistently broken ranks with theatrical stereotypes through unparalleled, highly creative productions.

For his vision of Shakespeare’s “Richard iii” (note the lower case “I”), Tsikurishvili returns to the company’s “wordless Shakespeare.” It is the 14th performance Synetic Theater has employed this silent technique to ground-breaking effect, but it’s the first time it has been used to create a new storytelling style wherein disembodied voices occasionally speak by video projection to help ground the plot.

Magnified by a powerful surround sound system to background Richard’s murderous reign, this production becomes a virtual, multi-media, full-on techno experience that is eerily bloodless.

After a serious battle injury and subsequent reconstruction, Richard accustoms himself to his new cyber body by using controls implanted into his robotic arm. Using digital combat technology, he is able to kill all 13 of his victims by projecting them onto giant touchscreens where he can then drag and drop their images, effectively vaporizing them. I’ll skip the plot synopsis – that’s what CliffsNotes are for – but you can easily follow through the continuous video projections, as well as the performers’ interactions, as Richard evolves into the cruel, soulless monster he has been programmed to be.

Emotionally disconnected, his Orwellian rampage continues. No one is spared – not his cohorts, nor his royal family. In Tsikurishvili’s futuristic world of cyborgs, zombies and warrior droids, Richard is a far more efficient killer than Shakespeare could ever have imagined.

“Deformed, unfinished … I am determined to prove a villain,” Richard asserts.

As we have come to expect from this Georgian troupe’s dazzling performances, there are mind-blowing displays of sheer physicality, intricately choreographed dances, gravity-defying fights, touches of wry humor (the Duke of Buckingham vapes marijuana), as well as classic pantomime. These are award-worthy performances by Alex Mills as Richard, Phillip Fletcher as King Edward and Irina Tsikurishvili as Queen Elizabeth.

Artistically brilliant, visually riveting and provocative. A five-star production with a flawless cast.

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili, resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, scenic and multimedia design by Tennessee Dixon, adapted by Nathan Weinberger, lighting design by Brian S. Allard, costume designs by Erik Teague, sound design by Thomas Sowers, video producer and editor Scott Brown.

Jordan Wright writes about food, spirits, travel, theatre and culture. Visit her website at www.whiskandquill.com or email her at Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com.

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